Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Group review - Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
Emil and the Detectives was read as part of our world of stories summer. The book started off with Little M. Then it was put on a boat and train with Daddy Cool (he opted not for Berlin – anyone who reads Emil will understand!), and then Grandad Africa jumped on a few planes to pick it up too.

Emil’s popularity among these three may have to do with the story but it might also have something to do with the numbers of pages. At 153 pages, it’s a slim and inviting read that can be read quickly by some and easily carried to all sorts of places by those who choose to take a little longer.

But writing a group review is difficult! Writing a group review across three generations in a noisy family is near impossible – my goodness!  This ‘review’ is probably more an experiment in reading group discussion than in a book review. Outcome: extended discussion…….on all sorts of things!!! Talk about fiction expanding your minds….

Now to Emil….sort of.

Emil and the Detectives was first published in 1959 in German. It is about a boy named Emil and a group of boys who help him get back his seven pounds which has been stolen on the train to Berlin. Emil was travelling alone for the first time. Note, Emil is a boy who likes to help and please his single mother but he does get into mischief with his friends.

Grandad Africa felt that there was more involvement by adults in the story too and that Emil and the Detectives is also about behaviour and how children and adults should respond in certain circumstances. Grandad Africa wondered whether Emil is suitable in 2012 because of the behaviour of children in the novel. But Little M completely disagreed and questioned if you follow that logic then what about other fiction Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series then? This is fiction!

A very passionate discussion about the role of fiction, the behaviour of children then and now, the possible confusions resulting from a translation, characteristation, and the type of language that is used in the novel (whether it reflects that of street children or public school educated children) ensued. 

Some other thoughts about Emil and the Detectives:

Daddy Cool and Little M had a little debate about gender roles in the novel. Daddy Cool thought the roles were gender segregated. This didn’t stand out as something noteworthy for Little M.

All three readers were confused by the reference to sterling currency when the novel was/is set in Berlin. Does anyone know why this is???

Daddy Cool liked the ending and the old school language. Again, the language in the novel didn’t affect Little M’s reading of it. She also didn’t know what old school language meant anyway!

Daddy Cool thought Emil and the Detectives was a good, easy read and the second half is better than the first. Little M agreed. Daddy Cool said, “It was fun a book and it made me feel happy.”

Little M really liked the book because she “loved the adventure and the kids tracking someone down.” She really liked the extras at the end of the book and she did the quiz. The adults didn’t do the quiz.

Grandad Africa thought that it is a great read for young boys because of the escapades of the group of children but added a cautionary note about taking the law into your own hands. Little M is emphatic that girls like escapades and would like this one too!! Another debate ensued…..

PS. Nanny Bee is rushing to read Emil and the Detectives to find out what all the fuss is about!

PPS. M has only read the first few chapters so far but especially likes the way that the author, Erich Kastner, speaks directly to the readers to explain things in the novel that they might not know. Like why seven pounds is so important to Emil and his mother. Or what you might expect in a third class train carriage. There are illustrations with detailed captions too – these are great; a bit like you’re being given clues that nobody else in the novel knows about.

Publication details:
Vintage, August 2012, London, paperback

This copy: received from the publishers for review.

To win a copy of Emil and the Detectives or any of the other titles in the new Vintage Children's Classics series, enter here.


  1. Emil and the Detectives was originally written in the 1920s so the seven pounds would have been an enormous amount of money. Also, it was written in German and putting the currency into pounds is the translator's work, not Kastner's.
    I have always loved Emil just for the punk and easy way the kids have of becoming friends. Kastner also wrote a book called Lotte und Lottchen, which is the story the The Parent Trap is based on.
    One last bit of info: Kastner was banned by the Nazis and when they held their book burning on May 10, 1933 he stood on the sideline and watched his own books being burned. How sad that must have been for him, he was like the Roald Dahl of Germany before that.

    1. Yay Alex!!! Thanks, especially for the info on the currency and translation. Kastner writes a whole paragraph in the book that explains the value of the seven pounds, which might to some readers seem low - it's on p.8 of this edition. And yes, watching the book burning must have been very sad for him. This edition of the book does include a little about the author in the Backstory section which is a useful (and fun) addition.

  2. I think this book is next to read together with my son! I think we're both looking forward to it :)

    1. Oh enjoy it. I think it's size is a bonus for reading together too :)


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