It’s not what you might think from the title of this post… Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner, definitely IS a book I’d recommend to anyone who loves young people’s classic literature. It’s a sweet, fun mystery about a young boy who goes alone to visit his grandmother in Berlin, and runs into trouble and adventure on the way. But when I saw Emil and the Detectives on the shelf at my library this week, I was flooded with guilt. Why…? Well, it’s a memory that goes way back…
My father was a university professor, and his home office (which we called his “study”) was a wonderful, magical room full of books and art. There were very few children’s books in his library, though, but Emil and the Detectives was one that I discovered on his shelf and read with delight. At that time, I had a friend who was German, and who had never read it, so I happily loaned it to him — without asking my father’s permission, as if the my father’s library belonged to me and the book was mine to loan. Unfortunately, my friend’s family moved and he never returned the book. I had to tell my father what I had done and that his book was gone forever. Oh the guilt!!
So, yes, I checked the book out of the library and read it again and found it even more delightful than I had remembered it. Emil is a “model boy,” (meaning a very thoughtful, kind, and considerate young man) because he chooses to be. He dearly loves his widowed mother and does everything he can to make her proud and to help her in every way he can. He runs into some pretty rough characters in Berlin, but also finds a group of young friends who help him after his money is stolen on the train. It’s a fun adventure.
The book, itself, has an interesting history. It was written in 1929 and survived censorship by the Nazis during the Second World War. It has been translated into 59 different languages. My father was nine-years-old when it was published. Did he read it and love it as a young boy? Or did he read it after his war experiences in Germany? I would love to be able to ask him those questions and discuss this delightful little book with him. Sadly, we never discussed it when I was little. I wasn’t punished for lending his book without his permission, but it was a life lesson for me, and I will never get over knowing that he was disappointed in me for my poor decision.
But, please, read it — guilt-free — and enjoy it. It’s a worthwhile read.