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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)
Girl from Nowhere (The)
by Hertha von Gebhardt
Age Range: 9-11
When nine-year-old Magdalene comes to stay in their little German town, the children of the street regard her with suspicion. She is a strange girl, lost in a melancholy dream. She wears a faded green pinafore-dress and sits with her knees drawn up to her chin, hugging them with her arms. The children are very curious. Who is she? Where does she come from? Why is she sitting there oblivious to them and not making any attempt to play with them either?
Initially, there is a lot of speculation about this newcomer who is living in foster care after her grandmother died. The children believe she has magic powers and that she may be a sorceress. Magdalene’s mysterious insistence that her father is a very important man and will someday rescue her fills the children with great expectations as does her talk of a treasure trunk full of marvellous toys.
One of the children has a dream that Magdalene’s father is a king who can satisfy any wish, and who will bring his daughter lots of toys and expensive gifts. She then tells the other children about her dream and they start to believe it’s true. When Uti’s doll gets damaged, Magdalene offers to go to the basement to retrieve her own doll from her trunk. When it turns out that it contains nothing more than a ragged doll, the children lose faith in Magdalene and decide not to speak to her again. Will the children reconcile with her and will Magdalene’s father ever arrive?
German author Hertha von Gebhardt (1896-1978) has woven a haunting atmospheric story about a series of misunderstandings, conveying the message that people sometimes form the wrong ideas or impressions. She has accurately observed childhood fantasy, where reality and imagination become mixed up.
James Kirkup’s superb translation allows the narrative to flow fluently and effortlessly and Helen Brun black and white line drawings perfectly capture the spirit of the text.
Von Gebhardt was a prolific German author with many of her titles being translated into English in the 1950s and 60s including: Love from Nicky (1960), The River Post (1961), Toffee and the Small Car (1961) Ruth’s New Friend (1963), The Building Site (1964) and The Boy in the Glasses (1967)