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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)
Emil and the Detectives
by Erich Kastner
Age Range: 9-11
Ten-year-old Emil Tischbein from Neustadtl, a small provincial town in Germany is sent by his mother to Berlin to take his grandmother some money. Who would have guessed that Emil’s trip would turn into an exciting chase when he has his money stolen? He makes friends with Gustav who offers the help of a local gang of children who call themselves ‘the detectives’. Together they set out to track down the thief and the ensuing dramatic and thrilling adventure unfolds.
Eric Kästner’s books are regarded as modern-day classics but it is just as enjoyable today as it ever was and boys, in particular, will love it. As well as being an adventure story it also deals with moral issues. The central one being – is it right to steal something back from the person who stole from you? The lesson for readers in the words of Emil’s grandmother was “Life is difficult sometimes but there are many kind people in the world and a true friend comes when you need help”.
Emil and the Detectives was first published in English in 1931. It was then reissued in this translation in 1959 with an introduction by Walter de la Mare. It was Kästner's first major success and the only one of his pre1945 works to escape Nazi censorship at the time. Emil and the Three Twins followed in 1933 but did not become as well known as the first mainly due to its writing being shortly followed by the rise of the Nazis to power. Publication of his books were forbidden and existing books were burned, with the exception of the first Emil book as it was considered too popular.