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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)
by A. Rutgers van der Loeff
Age Range: 9-11
A large piece of over-grown untidy wasteland seems out of place between the rows of houses around it. It was possibly an old bomb-site because of the deep crater in its midst and is regarded as an eyesore by the city council and most of the local community. However, for local children, it is an exciting playground. Mickie, known as Giggle because she was always laughing, Snuffle and Rake along with many other children spend most of their time there.
Everybody's Land did not happen without some violence. One day the crisis escalates when thirty-three white children face thirty-three black children across the wasteland, with both sides preparing to do battle. But it is the children, (who are far more sensible than the adults), who come to a mutual understanding and agree that the wasteland should become Everybody's Land. They spend hours tidying it up so that it even takes on a sort of respectability. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of some adults who see the profitability of developing the site. Suddenly Everybody's Land is under threat because everyone wants it!
Now the children have a new battle to fight as they need to find a way to protect their piece of land. Their cause seems almost lost until a mysterious old gentleman, often seen walking on the waste ground, comes to their rescue.
Written by Dutch author Anna Rutger van der Loeff and published in Holland in 1962, Everybody’s Land uses startlingly racist and culturally sensitive language that would not be permitted today in a children's book. In this particular case, although shocking to the modern reader, the author is making a point by showing the bigotry and overt racism that was prevalent at the time. Rutger van der Loeff depicts most of the adults as fools and the children as the sensible 'grown-ups'. Mickie's racist uncle is the Superintendent for Public Affairs and his niece merely repeats his views and it is left to Rake to challenge her on why the colour of the other children's skin should make any difference and tells her firmly "Your Uncle talks through his hat.”
Rutger van der Loeff clearly demonstrates what she sees as racism and it's telling, that the only decent adult, Mr Morgenthau, is Jewish and a survivor of the horrors of the Second World War. He turns out to be the saviour of the wasteland telling the children that "the condition is that the land shall always remain Everybody's Land and that no child shall ever be prevented from playing there because of his race or colour.”
Everybody's Land is an interesting novel from a historical perspective showing how immigrants were perceived and of how a writer of children's fiction at the time was highlighting the racial divides in communities. As the blurb on the front cover states – "Striking resemblance to our modern world of troubled race relationships.” Translated by Elizabeth Meijer with black and white illustrations by Jenny Dalenoord.