One of the prompts for today is “March 2nd is National Read Across America Day. Tell us about your favorite childhood book.” I had written this back on August 2014, and since it’s been a while, decided to share it again. Everything I said then still applies.
This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I got it from my godmother when I was seven or eight. She had brought a copy home with her when she returned from a trip to Europe, and we used to read it together. She thought I might like a copy of my own. I lost track of the book after I left home, but Mom kept it for me and gave it back to me not long before she died.
These were children’s stories written by Herr Wilhelm Busch in the late 1800’s. They were written in German, and the book I have (an earlier edition of the one currently available) has the text written in German and translated into pretty amazing English poetry by “H. Arthur Klein and others.”
These are not pleasant stories. Max and Moritz are two delinquent little boys that wreak havoc wherever they go. They kill a woman’s chickens, then abscond with the meat, put gunpowder in the church organist’s pipe, goad the town’s tailor into crossing a bridge which they have sawed through, and end up being ground up by the local miller and fed to the ducks. Ker and Plunk, or “Plisch und Plum” if you prefer, are two dogs that are saved from drowning by Peter and Paul. The dogs (and boys) are about as bad as Max and Moritz, but without the malicious intent, and finally all are taught a lesson with a hazel-root stick, after which they become model citizens.
There are shorter stories as well. A boy goes skating on a very cold day, falls through the ice, and freezes. His father finds him and brings him home, and when they try to thaw him, he melts away. Two boys tease an old man who lives in a barrel, and eventually get flattened by said barrel. A boy tries smoking his father’s pipe, and the room starts dancing around him until his mother finds him and puts him to bed with strong coffee. A boy teases an old man with a blowgun, and the old man shoves the gun down the kid’s throat.
Gee, really pleasant stuff, huh? As awful as it sounds, it’s a wonderful book. Busch wrote the whole thing in verse and illustrated it himself, and both drawings and verse are clever. The translators took care to produce a text that’s faithful both to Busch’s words and to the poetry and stories. The Afterword of the book has details about the stories and explains some of the translations. And, my copy is over fifty years old, and while the cover is torn off, the pages are still intact.
If you know German, or are trying to learn it, you’ll like this book. If you write verse, you’ll like this book. If you have kids, they’ll like this book. If you just like stories like this, you’ll like the book. I can still remember the details and the pictures forty years later, even though I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and read it again until recently.
I rate this book five stars (or, if you prefer, Fünf Sterne).