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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)
Parent Trap (The)
by Erich Kastner
Age Range: 9-11
When Lottie Körner arrives at summer camp in the mountain village of Seebühl near Lake Bühl she is astonished to discover another girl, Luise Palfy, who looks just like her. In fact, they are identical, except for their hairstyles – Lottie has her long hair in plaited braids while Luise wears her long ringlets loose. They have never seen each other before but it’s not long before they establish the secret behind their similarity and come up with an ingenious plan that will allow them to experience each other’s lives; Lottie will become Luise and Luise will become Lottie.
Lottie’s mother is a young professional woman who works as a picture editor for a magazine in Munich while Luise’s father is a composer and the Music Director at the Opera House in Vienna. The girl’s lives could not be more different; Luise lives in relative luxury with her conductor father while Lottie lives in more humble circumstances with her hard-working mother. They have very different personalities too: Lottie is quiet, serious and studious while Luise is confident and out-going.
As they swap lives it all seems to go according to plan with everyone falling for the ruse, that is, except for Peperl the dog. It is only with the arrival of their father’s young, beautiful, scheming girlfriend, Irene Gerlach that things gradually begin to unravel.
The Parent Trap by German writer Erich Kästner (1899 - 1974) is far more sophisticated than it might first appear. Although written in 1949, Kästner’s observations on the break-up of a marriage and divorce with the ensuing repercussions that follow are astute. Even in the 1940s, writing a children’s novel tackling divorce and single parents, particularly a young working mother with a career was quite advanced for its time.
Kästner narrates the story in an engaging and confiding style; he doesn’t judge his adult characters, although he is clearly on the side of the children, making some telling points about the way that parents relate to their children. He even cites the example of child film star Shirley Temple, who was allowed to make films, but too young to be allowed to go and see them. Children are usually well aware of what is going on. They may not understand the situation in an adult way, but they can pick up on tension, atmosphere and unhappiness and Kästner emphasises in his narrative the important of adults communicating with their children.
Award-winning translator Anthea Bell has provided a lovely, fresh new translation, complimented by the original black-and-white illustrations by Walter Trier (1890-1951). The Parent Trap has twice been adapted for film, once by Walt Disney in 1961, starring British child actress Hayley Mills, and subsequently remade in 1998 with Lyndsey Lohan.
Pushkin Children’s modern edition will ensure that a whole new audience can enjoy this timeless classic.