Realistic youth literature can be poetic

Children's and youth literatureLife without parents

Whether Oliver Twist, Heidi, Jim Knopf, Harry Potter, the red Zora, Mowgli, Krabat, Momo, Pippi Longstocking, Ira, Flo, Krempe, Julian or Holly - they all have one thing in common: They spend their lives without parents. If one deals with the history of children's and youth literature, one encounters young protagonists, from Grimm's fairy tales to classic comic heroes such as Spiderman to current realistic literature, who struggle through everyday life without parental protection, sometimes with or without caregivers. Fathers and mothers don't disappear or die in the course of the story, they just don't exist.

"But I think that it happens so often, simply because the challenges that arise without having to prove one's worth without parents are much greater. And in stories you always look for extreme situations in order to find something based on extreme situations to tell what you can then break down or use for your everyday life and grow from it, yes, you can stand up from it. "

The children's book author Nina Weger thinks.

Excerpt from the book "Pippi Longstocking": "She had no mother and no father, and actually that was very nice, because there was nobody there to tell her to go to bed, especially when she was in the middle of the most beautiful game."

Could Pippi Longstocking have been able to lead an autonomous life with father and mother with their own little house, monkey and horse? Certainly not.

Nina Weger: "I look after several Syrian children and families and the girls told me that they had now got a book at school, there is a girl who lives all alone in a house and has big shoes and nobody is looking after her . And then I said, yes, Pippi Longstocking. And then they said: What, do you know her too? And then I said, yes, everyone knows Pippi Longstocking. And then I thought, yes, how great that this figure is topical has lost nothing. So when she meets new children and exerts the same fascination as she did on me back then, someone who alone determines his life. I found that very exciting. "

Super strong Pippi is still relevant to this day

Everything that children dream of in their imaginations can be found in the stories about the super strong Pippi: autonomy, independence and, above all, having fun with crazy things. Astrid Lindgren's focus is not on how a child fits into society, but how it remains true to itself and stands up to adults. However, the story about Pippi Longstocking also has a serious background. It is the work of an overwhelmed mother with a guilty conscience. The very young Astrid Lindgren had to put her son in a foster family after the birth. In her happy story in 1944 she designed the scenario of an abandoned child who can be happy even without caring parents. It would never occur to Pippi that her parents, mother is dead, father far away, never loved her.

Other literary figures who feel like outsiders have doubts about that, they feel lonely, fearful and unloved. Young readers experience ambivalent feelings in the stories about orphaned children. On the one hand, they feel their own inner fears and fears of losing their parents, but on the other hand, they want to set themselves apart. And so orphans or foster children often become objects of empathy, but also serve as projection figures.

Excerpt from the book "The Red Zora": "I mainly read the old chronicles, and preferably what was written in them about the Uskoks. But when I had read all of this, life in the gray house became more and more boring for me, and I opened up and of that. "

The stubborn orphan girl Zora does not dwell on rules or regulations for long. She founds her own gang, the Uskoken, an emergency community of boys who are also orphans, homeless or rejected by their parents. Away from society, children take all liberties and transgress moral boundaries, but they also rebel against socially unjust conditions. In "The Red Zora and Her Gang", written in 1941, Kurt Held tells a very realistic story with an assertive heroine. The modern classics like "Die Rote Zora", "Pippi Longstocking", but also "Heidi" by Johanna Spyri and later "Jim Knopf" or "Momo" by Michael Ende paint an ideal picture of a strong and independent child who is distant real obligations. However, it looks quite different with Charles Dickens and his "Oliver Twist" in the 19th century.

Excerpt from the book "Oliver Twist": "Oliver was told that if he did not go willingly or if he was ever seen again in the poor house, he would be sent to sea after appropriate punishment, where he would inevitably drown."

Exposed to the arbitrariness of adults

Always hungry, lonely and at the mercy of adults, Oliver lives as an orphan in England. Charles Dickens designed, also after his own experiences as a child, an atmospherically dense society panorama. Oliver is sold to an undertaker, he escapes and falls into the hands of thieves. The counter figure to the unscrupulous gang leader Fagin is the well-read Mr. Brownlow. If Fagin exploits the children in order to increase his own wealth, Brownlow relies on the individual strengths of the children and education.

The writer Charles Dickens (AFP / INP)

If Oliver Twist is publicly chastised for his alleged misconduct, orphans are now punished behind closed doors. In Robin Roe's new book for young people "The Suitcase", 14-year-old Julian lives in the big house of his uncle Russell, who humiliates him and hits him with the rod, after the death of his parents. Bullied by his classmates, Julian wears things that are far too tight and has neither a cell phone nor a computer, and the youngster torments himself through everyday life without feeling of self-worth until Adam, he is four years older, takes care of him and gradually finds out why Julian is so insecure.

Excerpt from "The Suitcase": "I hate myself for doing everything wrong again and again. I hate the feeling when Russell is angry with me. And I hate the traces of his anger on my body."

Despite psychological support, no one, neither the teacher nor the psychologist, can get to the traumatized Julian. At the mercy of his sadistic uncle, the plot escalates and reads like an exciting thriller towards the end. Through the narrative perspectives of the two boys chosen by the American author, the reader can look into their inner worlds and understand how fatally dependent and at the mercy of orphans are on the people they are supposed to protect. Also in the new novel "Curtain up for Johanna!" by Annika Thor some motifs from "Oliver Twist" return. However, she connects her plot with the theater environment in 1835. The story is told from the perspective of the foundling Johann.

Excerpt from the book "Curtain up for Johanna!": "Was it perhaps easier for girls to remain undetected? Were boys from the orphanage easier to recognize, and not just because of the shaved hair? It took a few days before I had planned everything So much had to be considered. The clothes. The hair. Sufficient provisions for the first few days so that I didn't have to beg and thereby draw attention to myself. "

Escape from the orphanage

As a girl, the eleven-year-old escapes hunger and hard work in the spinning mill of the orphanage and can slip under the wings of the angelic actress Anna-Maria. Not without fear of discovery, Johann, who now calls himself Johanna, gets to know the fascinating life in a theater troupe. And Johann's path crosses the disrespectful and pragmatic orphan boy Gustav, who lives under a boat on the river. Annika Thor interweaves her story about the orphaned children Johanna and Gustav, who are actually called Johann and Stava, with Shakespeare's play "As You Like It". Anna-Maria would love to play this comedy, but her father loves historical dramas.

Johann and Stava, who has fled their violent stepfather, go on a search for a better life like Oliver Twist and try to protect themselves by swapping the sexes and their new roles as girls and boys. In her book, the Swedish author, like Charles Dickens in "Oliver Twist", takes up the motif of hidden high origins. Whereby Johann can just avoid an assassination attempt before the fairytale and happy ending. What is rather implausible in this novel, however, is that the specialists in the field do not see through the children's drama; the course of the foreseeable plot not far from the orphanage also seems too constructed. The reference to Shakespeare's play seems artificial and artificial. Mark Twain's novel "Tom Sawyer's Adventure" is still closer to life and far from any harmony addiction, despite its distant setting on the Mississippi.

Excerpt from the book "Tom Sawyer's Adventure": "Tom walked around the block and came to a dirty path that led past his aunt's cowshed. Now he was out of danger of being caught and punished. And he went to the market square of the small town, where, according to an agreement, two "military formations" of the boys had met to fight each other. "

The contemporary portrait shows the American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910). (picture alliance / dpa / Bifab)

The figure of Tom Sawyer is an example of a free, unbound life. With his best friend Huck, Tom never avoids any dramatic adventure. But the young are not unscrupulous, on the contrary. Their love of truth and their penchant for risk make the two main characters so likeable. Mark Twain not only lets Tom Sawyer play tricks, he also looks into his soul. As a child without parents, Tom ponders whether he has ever been loved and even stages, a thoroughly childlike fantasy, his own death and the happy resurrection.

When Mara Schindler wrote her children's novel "Krempe, Kottek and the thing with Misses Schulz", she involuntarily thought of the books by Mark Twain.

"I think that Krempe can grow up as wild as Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn did, because the age difference to Grandpa is so immense. This freedom, which Kottek also embodies, I found again at least with Mark Twain. I had only read the book in the summer, how they have a good time and make their own rules, something reminded me of it. "

Not just parents as reference points

The ten-year-old Krempe, actually Karoline, lives with her grandpa Kottek in an idyllically disused old train station. Her parents died in an apartment fire when the child was just one year old. Kottek does not attach great importance to cleanliness, but prefers to philosophize with his granddaughter about life and whether the river trout bite. Krempe doesn't play mau mau either, but plays poker as much as he can.

Excerpt from the book "Krempe, Kottek and the thing with Misses Schulz": Krempe pauses and listens. What growls is her stomach, and it demands something hearty, she hears that immediately. Maybe because it's Monday today, thinks Krempe. She takes the packet of eggs from the shelf and starts frying the eggs. And when Brempe fries fried eggs, it's better to keep your distance, because she doesn't skimp on the butter and she doesn't skimp on the heat. "

Mara Schindler: "To understand Krempe, you have to get to know Kottek. This is her grandpa. Krempe is quite the granddaughter of her grandfather and that's where the problems that arise. You could imagine him as a cowboy who needs nothing and nobody, Except for himself. And he has already experienced very difficult things in his life, things that will probably break most people, but not Kottek. He says, I want to go on anyway, life is still good. He tries everything to give Krempe Brempe is also overwhelmed with that, because she is actually only ten years old, is a sensitive girl. It is not for nothing that she hides behind her large railroad man's hat. I think it also makes it clear what parents can do and what Kottek, because he already does is old, can no longer fully achieve. And where Brim lags behind and what then becomes a problem for her in the course of history. "

When the annoying Misses Schulz from the youth welfare office, the sea witch, as Krempe calls her, stands in front of the door, the girl really feels fear for the first time, and not just her. All of the neighbors, Jakob the hunter, farmer Lothar or policewoman Lydia, notice that Kottek, who has always been healthy, is gradually losing his memory and at times maneuvering himself into dangerous situations. However, when Kottek dies, a decision has to be made. Mara Schindler tells this subtle story of the orphan Krempe, of Grandpa Kottek and the friends in the village with poetic ease and great idealism. It speaks to the reader directly, draws them right into the action and asks the question:

Mara Schindler: "How important are parents? And can people who are not directly related to children be just as important? And that's why I also have this village community, the friends who are actually a surrogate family and Krempe try to mediate such a network, as the parents usually do. And Kottek has always seen that in his wisdom, who of all the residents would be the right reference partner for Krempe, namely Jakob in the first place. "

At Mara Schindler, you can rely on adults. With Sally Nicholls, however, they fail. The British author chooses the first person perspective for her novel "An Island to Us Alone" in order to create a close relationship between the readers and her main character Holly.

Book excerpt "An island to ourselves": "When people ask me: So your brother will take care of you two? I usually answer: Well, yes, he takes care of me and I take care of Davy. Even if I do I'm almost a child myself, I have just as much parenting responsibilities as Jonathan. "

Holly's parents have died and her brother, the adult Jonathan, has left college to support the children. The three of them live pretty poorly above a chip shop in London. Even if Holly naively and bluntly points out the financial hardship of the nuclear family to the social workers, not much has changed. But when her wealthy aunt Irene dies, it turns out that the siblings should inherit their jewelry. But no one, not even the obnoxious, stingy Uncle Evan suspects where his wife in her paranoid derangement has deposited money, papers and said jewelry. And so begins an unusual treasure hunt in which the energetic and self-confident Holly tries to reach her goal by all means against all odds, especially that of the adults.

Freedom through the absence of parents

Without sentimentality, with dry humor and a lot of empathy, Sally Nicholls tells this realistic story, the great strength of which is the solidarity of the siblings. They handle everything together, even buying Holly's first bra.

Many authors are trying to value the absence of parents against the freedom that is now opening up for children, so the British author SE Durrant shows in her novel "The Sky over Appleton House" how deep the injuries and emotional deficits are especially with foster children . The siblings Ira and Zac know that their mother lives somewhere but cannot or does not want to take care of her.

Excerpt from the book "Heaven above Appleton House": "I don't usually show my feelings, after all, I'm the older one. Zac stood in the hallway with that terribly sad expression on his face that he always has when grief clasps him so tightly it looks as if he was about to suffocate. Then it always takes forever to get him out of it. "

J.K. Rowling also wrote the Harry Potter books (Image: picture alliance / dpa) (Wall to Wall Media Ltd)

From Ira's perspective, the reader accompanies the two children to the run-down children's home at Skilly House in London. Despite the friendly tutors, nine-year-old Ira and her two-year-old brother always feel a sense of shame and inferiority. Many children leave Skilly House, but Ira and Zac have to stay until they are allowed to spend their first summer vacation with Martha Freeman in June 1989. Shy Martha has worked with children for years, but she is somehow insecure when dealing with Zac and Ira. Ira likes Appleton House, here she can paint and feel good again for the first time. Only Zac misbehaves, climbs on everything and destroys Martha's rocking chair. Ira, who lacks any basic trust, now lives in fear that Martha might send her back home right away. Ira cannot get rid of this feeling of inner insecurity of not being wanted or loved, and Martha invites the children over and over again.She tries to relieve the girl of the permanent responsibility for Zac and to make it clear to her that she also has a right to happiness and joie de vivre. Very close to Ira's stream of thought, the reader understands what children who have never experienced the protection of their parents have to deal with themselves, sometimes painfully.

Parentlessness also plays a role in Harry Potter

J. K. Rowling also takes up this topic in her world hit "Harry Potter". She uses parentlessness to build up an inner arc of tension, the outer one is occupied by magic. And only she ensures that Harry can establish a strengthening connection to his parents in his most difficult moment, the fight against the Dark Lord.

Book excerpt "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire": "He knew it, because the person who appeared now was the one he had thought of more than anyone that evening. The smoky shadow of a tall man with tousled hair much too Boden. And Harry, whose arms were now trembling, returned the look and looked into his father's ghostly face. "Your mother is coming," he said softly. "She wants to see you. It will be fine. Hold on. "

Also in Nina Weger's new children's book "Club der Heldinnen" the main characters live and learn far from home, but without magic in a traditional school. There are no parents in the popular genre of boarding school novels. And the children enjoy their individual freedoms and often the happiness of friendship. Nina Weger's main characters, who come from England, Paraguay and North America, are exclusively girls with special skills.

Nina Weger: "One is particularly good at archery, the other sails fantastic, the third is a great rider. But they all have special intellectual abilities. While Pina is a nature observer, Flo is a strategist, a great planner and Blanca, is, yes, I would say the brave daredevil, who reacts with lightning speed when danger threatens. And together, of course, you can climb into dark vaults, you ride into the forest at night, you have to climb into a cave, you have to dive . In principle, it is the classic adventures that we all want. We come into situations where we have to prove ourselves, where we can try ourselves out and cope with dangerous situations and emerge stronger from them. "

Excerpt from the book "Club of the Heroines": "What a treasure ?!" Blanca clenched her fists. "I'm here at this school because our family treasure is somewhere here. Or at least the key to it. Do you know how exhausting it is to play the good girl all the time ?!" I don't care at all now, "interrupted Flo "I would rather know why my little sister disappeared and what you and this darling have to do with it!"

The three girls now have to find out together where Charly, Flo's sister, has gone and, above all, what the kidnappers actually want. Of course, no adult is consulted, because this adventure belongs to the clever girls all alone.

Nina Weger: "In the story I honestly let the adults, including the educators, out quite a bit. I find it more and more exciting when children interact with each other and face problems alone and cope with them on their own without adults I, it is very difficult for children in our world to move around freely and to conquer, yes, to recapture spaces that are not occupied by adults. "

Nina Weger's exciting and fast-paced story is an entertaining mix of boarding school, adventure and detective novels. The author certainly idealizes the independent life in boarding school and yet she always stays on the ground of real facts.

Today children do not necessarily have to move away from the family context in stories in order to be able to act autonomously. However, every writer has more narrative leeway if his heroes have no parents. The literature offers young readers a wide variety of offers, whereby on the one hand they can encounter the strong, independent child or the child without protection and support who finds its own way despite adversity.

Book information:

Astrid Lindgren: "Pippi Longstocking"
from the Swedish by Cäcilie Heinig,
Oetinger Verlag, Hamburg 2007, 144 pages, 12.95 euros,

Charles Dickens: "Oliver Twist"
from the English by Susi Haberl,
Arena Verlag, Würzburg 2016, 237 pages, 8.99 euros,

Kurt Held: "The red Zora and her gang"
Fischer Schatzinsel, Frankfurt a. M. 1994, 552 pages, 14.90 euros,

Mara Schindler: "Krempe, Kottek and the thing with Misses Schulz"
rowohlt rotfuchs, Reinbek near Hamburg 2017, 189 pages, 12.99 euros,

Mark Twain: "Tom Sawyer's Adventure"
from the American by Lore Krüger,
Diogenes Verlag, Zurich 2002, 327 pages,

S. E. Durrant: "The Skies Over Appleton House"
from the English by Katharina Diestelmeier,
Königskinder in Carlsen Verlag, Hamburg 2017, 240 pages, 16.99 euros,

Nina Weger: "Club of Heroines"
Oetinger Verlag, Hamburg 2017, 208 pages, 12.00 euros,

J. K. Rowling: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
from the English by Klaus Fritz,
Carlsen Verlag, Hamburg 2000, 767 pages, 24.99 euros,

Sally Nicholls: "An island to ourselves"
from the English by Beate Schäfer,
dtv series Hanser, Munich 2017, 216 pages, 12.95 euros,

Annika Thor: "Curtain up for Johanna!"
from the Swedish by Birgitta Kicherer,
Urachhaus Verlag, Stuttgart 2017, 240 pages, 14.99 euros,