German Children’s Literature

– and why it’s worthwhile to have a closer look

For Indian publishers, German publishers can be attractive partners and vice versa! India, with its ethnic and cultural diversity and the plethora of books that deal with this heritage, could open up and broaden the minds of German readers, young ones included. The German book market with its widespread topics will well be enriched by books from India!

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Germany has a long tradition of children’s literature. One of the most popular German books for children, Der Struwwelpeter, written by Heinrich Hoffmann, was first published in 1845. And who hasn’t heard of The Brothers Grimm! They collected folk tales in the first half of the nineteenth century and published them for educational purposes.

Until the end of the nineteenth century children’s books focused merely on pedagogical topics. Modern German children’s literature, as we now see it, started with Erich Kästner’s Emil und die Detektive in 1929. Kästner by then was already a very well-known and esteemed author of poems and essays for adult readers in Berlin. One day, publisher Edith Jacobsohn asked him to write a detective story for young readers. She ignored his unwillingness and made him write his first – and immediately successful – children’s book. Thanks to the publisher, Erich Kästner’s great talent as a writer for both adult and young readers was discovered.

After World War Two, Germany saw a significant rise in children’s literature. English, American and Scandinavian originals did enjoy a remarkable market share and influence on the German children’s book market, the country nevertheless produced some outstanding ‘home’ authors. Otfried Preußler influenced little readers with his great novel Krabat. Michael Ende wrote the famous fantasy books Momo and Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story) which has been adapted into films multiple times. For his younger readers, he wrote the very popular Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer (Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver). Writers like James Krüss and Paul Maar were ‘language acrobats’, whose poems encourage children to discover the joy of playing with words and rhymes.

Children’s writing in Germany has changed with times, moving away from a purely pedagogic approach. German children’s literature now either focusses on social, political or private problems of children and their families, or has a fairytale-like manner of storytelling. Mythical creatures like fairies, mermaids and unicorns inhabit books for the very young readers.

Contemporary authors are taking children’s problems seriously. Their novels always deal with the actual situation of children in rapidly changing world. Kirsten Boie’s current series Thabo, centered on an African boy, introduces the readers to life in a difficult environment. Andreas Steinhöfel’s series Rico and Oscar, a story about two boys living in Berlin, illustrates with empathy the problems children face in our fast-changing society.

Readership of popular German children’s literature has gone global in the past few years. Many readers across the globe would remember devouring the fascinating Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke, known as the German J K Rowling. Funke, a world-renowned author, made German children’s literature known to many readers across the globe. Her Tintenherz trilogy is published in nearly all major languages and has made publishers worldwide interested in her oeuvre. The authors above are only the ones popular in publishing. There are many more that the world doesn’t know just as well.

German children’s book publishing is moving upwards in the market. They are proud to publish without limitation of topics, even for infants as young as 3 months old! Books for children and youth presently have a book market share of 16%. Each year they conquer the market with about 9, 000 novelties, most of which are German originals aside from 24% translated titles.

For Indian publishers, German publishers can be attractive partners and vice versa! India, with its ethnic and cultural diversity and the plethora of books that deal with this heritage, could open up and broaden the minds of German readers, young ones included. The German book market with its widespread topics will well be enriched by books from India!

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