Going through the list of the “1001 children’s book you must read before you grow up” made me realise that contrary to my general opinion on Dutch literature, I’ve always enjoyed Dutch children’s books. There is something there, something that make these books both realistic and funny, that I’ve always enjoyed. If I had to compare it to anything, somehow Swedish children books or movies always come to mind. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s simply because I grew up reading and watching both?
I had planned to post this overview of Dutch children’s literature last week, in honour of the US Children’s Book Week, but coursework kept me from posting this week. So this is me catching up.
I had a very hard time picking only a small number of books, in the end I decided to focus on books that were actually translated to English.
For the youngest..
Annie M.G. Schmidt is I think the best known children’s author in the Netherlands. She published a lot of books for children that are universally loved during her life. She also wrote a lot of poems and lyrics for songs in children’s series. Jip and Janneke is her best known work, about a boy and a girl that are neighbours, having everyday adventures such as walking their dog, having to stay indoors because they’re sick, or staying up to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I’ve received the omnibus version of this book last December, because my old childhood version was falling apart from having been read too many times. I do feel that some of these stories are incredibly dated, talking about household appliances that no child would have heard of in the 21st century, but I think I will read these stories to my children, if I ever have any.
Jip and Janneke might be the best known children’s book in the Netherlands, but Miffy is undoubtedly the most famous Dutch icon of children’s books in other countries. Not needing any introduction, I think I’ll only add that I think these stories might’ve stood the test of time better than Jip and Janneke did.
For the older children, age 8 and up.
It’s hard to select just a few Dutch children’s books that I loved, but this one is definitely on the list. It’s about a boy who becomes a knight that has to deliver, as you had probably guessed, a letter to the king. There is so much to this story: a small window into the Middle Ages, a boy growing up and overcoming his fears and of course the idea of adventure that every child probably loves. I remember reading this book during our required reading time in primary school and often feeling very sorry that I had to put it away. Having said that, the book requires a little bit of patience, I remember that I wasn’t hooked right away, but getting through the first chapters I just had to finish it as soon as possible.
Thea Beckman is one of those authors that every adult can pick up without having to feel ashamed that you’re reading children’s literature. She writes historical novels. Any sort of history really. I picked this book because I think it is her best known and because it has been translated to English. It is about a boy from “our time” that gets transported through time travel into a children’s crusade. The book provides another look into the Middle Ages, the religious conviction that some of these crusaders had, but also the cruelty of life. I didn’t love this book as much as I loved Saartje Tadema, which is about a orphan girl who grows up in Amsterdam in the, I think, 18th of 19th century. I’ve always been meaning to read her futuristic trilogy “Children of Mother Earth” but haven’t yet come around to it. Unfortunately, it seems neither Saartje Tadema nor the trilogy have been translated to English.
Guus Kuijer is one of the authors who’s called “a true disciple of Annie Schmidt” because he focuses his portrayals of children on both their good and bad behaviour. I grew up with both the books of Daisy (or Madelief, as she’s called in Dutch) and the television series that revolve around these stories. Her weird dreams, her pranks and her fears are all memorable and very enjoyable. The reader is able to follow her on every step on the way of growing up: finding out about her imagination when she gets a little cut in her foot and ends up telling everyone that “the whole swimming pool turned red because of all the blood” (yes, my sister and I ended up having nightmares) and crying along with her when one of her grandparents dies. Guus Kuijer does a great job portraying a child’s world.