Reviews 2011

Geschichte der Deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur [The History of German Children’s Literature]

Geschichte der Deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur [The History of German Children’s Literature]. 3rd Edition. Reiner Wild (ed.). Munich: J. B. Metzler, 2008. 533 pages. €40.00 (hardback).

This volume brings the stellar erudition of eminent scholars to a reference work that is indispensable to anyone interested in the history of German juvenile literature. Refinements in the third edition include extensive revisions of the chapters on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and a much finer differentiation in the analysis of later German children’s literature in light of the intensive proliferation of the genre and evolution of new media.

In the first chapter, Otto Brunken shows that the educational priorities of Humanism and the Reformation created a young readership for narrative fiction. Novels and collections of parables in particular enjoyed a steady growth throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries. Subsequent essays by Reiner Wild, Hans-Heino Ewers and Klaus-Ulrich Pech parallel canonical German literary history with respect to the long 19th century: Enlightenment, Romanticism and Realism. These three contributions from the first edition appear with minor revisions, which enable the essays to maintain their relevance.

Geschichte der deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur may be read as a cultural history of Germany. For example, Wild’s essay illustrates a distinctive characteristic of the German Enlightenment in German Philanthropism, the reform movement that stressed altruism in education by fostering children’s innate powers of reason. Hans-Heino Ewers’ essay on Romanticism focuses on the confluences of culture and history that influenced writing for young people. Ewers stresses that, despite the presence of fantasy and mysticism in Romantic literature, Romanticism was nevertheless directly influenced by the dissolution of Empire, war and Napoleon’s occupation of Germany. Nationalism and the emergence of Empire, concomitant with rapid industrialization in the course of the 19th century, witnessed dramatically increased production of literature and literary forms, such as periodicals and low-brow literature. Klaus-Ulrich Pech broaches German nationalism and anti-Semitism during the advent of Empire, which corresponded with the popularity of exotic adventures for boys. By the 1870s, a wealth of girls’ literature was emerging, which Gisela Wilkending explores at length. Wilkending integrates the special role of girls’ literature as part of the entire complex of industrialization in Germany and its effects on youth culture. The vast popularity of mass-produced literature ignited intense controversy over its alleged debilitating effects on children’s development and on society in general. Helga Karrenbrock’s summary of the brief but culturally fecund Weimar Republic concisely portrays the various trends which, among other things, produced Erich Kästner, a superstar of German children’s literature. Annegret Völpel’s new essay on Jewish juvenile literature in Germany highlights the remarkable diversity and wealth of Jewish culture. From the early 19th century through exile under National Socialism, the production of Jewish children’s literature adds a fascinating dimension to cultural history.

German juvenile literature of the past eighty years has expanded to such an extent that providing a historical summary is nigh impossible, yet the following chapters have distilled the essence quite convincingly. Petra Josting’s contribution on children’s literature under fascism emphasizes the instrumentalization of classic children’s literature, yet also shows that much literature which opposed Nazi ideals was still consumed. Exile literature presents its own peculiarities which resist clear definition, because exile literature appears in several countries each with complex publication histories of their own, which aggravates unified analysis. Rüdiger Steinlein’s account of juvenile literature in the Adenauer era follows the return of Weimar authors in a time noted for apolitical and ahistorical proclivities. Steinlein traces developments to the emergent influence of fantasy and portrayals of autonomous child characters. New stars of children’s literature introduced a “gentle” anti-authoritarianism, which deeply affected approaches to writing children’s literature.

After Steinlein, a single long chapter with contributions by six authors covers the period from the 1970s to the present, the 1968 student revolts being the decisive juncture. Reiner Wild’s preface introduces five selected topics: 1) Gabriele von Glasenapp surveys themes of history and contemporary history, including dealing with the Nazi past; 2) Carsten Gansel discusses coming-of-age literature; 3) Dagmar Grenz reviews girls’ literature over the past century, placing in historical context changes arriving with the modern women’s movement and responses to contemporary women’s issues; 4) Irmgard Nickel-Bacon recounts the recent discussion as to whether fantasy in literature opens up a kind of therapeutic space in the child’s psyche to work out problems through creative imagination; 5) Ines-Bianca Vogdt looks at recent children’s poetry. In their revised chapter on juvenile literature in the German Democratic Republic, Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff and Steffen Peltsch emphasize the wealth of high-quality writing for young people produced in East Germany. Although censorship existed, the literature was not hide-bound to a monolithic socialist perspective. These chapters on contemporary German juvenile literature succeed in digesting an enormous production of literature and offering in nuce a wonderfully comprehensive picture of genres, influences, issues and theories.

From the beginning of the twentieth century, media outside the printed page continually increased its presence in the culture of children and youth. Gudrun Stenzel concentrates on audio production, including radio and recordings from early records to mp3. Thomas Möbius elucidates the increasing domination in youth culture of visual media, starting from film, then television, then the marketing of videotapes, to the explosive proliferation of visual culture in the digital age. Matthis Kepser follows with the interactive media of computer and video games which, taken together, leads Möbius to conclude that the computer and/or the television now and for the future will dominate communication and the transmission of culture as integrated medial systems. It is not that these authors pronounce the demise of reading, but rather that they acknowledge that the young reader today is participating in a media-intense world.

Geschichte der deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur sets a standard for meticulous research and serves both as a valuable reference work as well as a collection of well-structured historical essays. Its authors present both a compendium of information and cogent analytical arguments. Every reference library should have this history of German children’s literature in its collection, as should anyone whose scholarly interests touch upon juvenile literature of the German-speaking world.

Luke Springman
Bloomsburg University, USA