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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)
Twelve People Are Not a Dozen
by Vera Ferra-Mikura
Age Range: 9-11
Eleven-year-old Nellie Sommer is part of a rather eccentric family which includes her mother, father, two brothers Erich and Fritz, two aunts Felicity and Greta, her mother’s brother Michael, his wife Resi and their son Bruno, and last but not least, her two grandfathers. They all live together in a large Viennese hunting lodge in Vienna.
Nellie’s school friend Marion Spindel, by contrast, comes from a small family where her mother is expecting a second child. Marion’s mother has arranged for Marion to stay with Frau Kulm while she is in hospital much to Marion’s dismay. She doesn’t like spending time with Frau Kuhn so instead goes to visit Nellie where she is introduced to her large family and two big statues of President Washington and Emperor Napoleon!
The two girls indulge in some clever conversations and when Marion tells Nellie that her large family of twelve is a dozen, Nellie disagrees telling her friend that twelve people are not a dozen and simply refuses to allow her relatives to be lumped together like ‘teaspoons’ or ‘buttons’.
Two stories are running parallel in this novel; Nellie's family are planning the 70th birthday celebration for Grampa Hering at Playland, the local amusement park, while Marion is finding it difficult to accept her new sibling because she worries that the newcomer will take away the love her parents have for her. She is desperate to confide in Nellie but it proves almost impossible surrounded by so many people.
Twelve People are Not a Dozen was written by Austrian author Vera Ferra-Mikura (1923-1997) in 1962 and meanders along at a gentle pace characterised by playful humour and imagination eloquently translated by Catherine Hutter who left the words Herr and Frau to rather than replace them with the English equivalent of Mr and Mrs which helps route the story in its Austrian setting.
Ferra-Mikura was best known for her children’s stories which were inspired by fairy tales and distinguished by magic realism. She was also the author of radio plays and poems for children and adults. In 1976 Ferra-Mikura received an award from the International Board of Books for Young People and in 1988 she received the Gold Award of the Ehrenmedaille der Bundeshauptstadt Wien for youth literature and the Theodor Körner Prize.