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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Flying Classroom (The)
by Erich Kastner
Age Range: 9-11
The Flying Classroom by German author Erich Kästner (1899-1974), best known for his classic Emil and the Detectives, is possibly not as famous, but with a fresh, new translation by Anthea Bell it now has the opportunity to reach a whole new audience.
The story is set in a boarding school, the Johann-Sigismund Gymnasium. With a cavalcade of characters from Jonathan Trotz, an orphan adopted by a captain, nervous Uli, future boxer Matthias who is always hungry, cynical Sebastian and the gentle Martin (the first student of the class), there is certainly plenty of adventure from kidnappings, a parachute jump and a fight with boys from another school – ‘The Realists’ who steal their books containing their dictations. There is also a mysterious man called ‘No –Smoking’ who lives in a railway carriage and the preparations for a play called ‘The Flying Classroom’, (hence the title of the book). That is to be presented before Christmas.
The Flying Classroom, written in 1993, remains an interesting book considering it was written just before the Nazis came to power and there are some elements in the story that reflect the economic and political climate in Germany during this time such as recession and mass unemployment.
Kästner won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award in 1960, a well-deserved recognition for his body of work and contribution to the field of children’s literature. His collaboration with Walter Trier (1880-1951) was unique and it would be difficult to read any of Kästner’s books and not see Trier’s glorious illustrations.