Monday 3 September 2018

Kästner, Erich "When I was a little boy"

Kästner, Erich "When I was a little boy" (German: Als ich ein kleiner Junge war) - 1957

Erich Kästner is a famous German author, even outside of Germany. He has mainly written children's books that were translated and read all over the world and they were also made into many films. He is the author of "Emil and the Detectives" (Emil und die Detektive) as well as "The Parent Trap" (Das doppelte Lottchen), "The Flying Classroom", "The Animal Congress" and "Three Men in the Snow" (to name but a few) and was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times, though never received it. All of his stories are lovely, always with a hint of sarcasm and criticism of our society.

But in this book, he describes his own life. His life as a little boy. Emil Erich Kästner was born in 1899 and his childhood lasted for fourteen years when it was ended by the beginning of the Great War.

Erich Kästner describes his life as a little boy just after the turn of the last century. We see him growing up in Dresden as the only child of a saddle maker and a hairstylist.  They were poor but they were happy.

We see little Erich play with his friends, learn at school, help his mother with her work, we see how families lived a hundred years ago.

Erich Kästner has the gift to describe all the details, even after many years. He wrote this book in 1957, such a long time ago. He mentions that you can't visit his home town Dresden anymore because it was destroyed. He would have been happy to see that they rebuilt a lot of it after the fall of The Wall. It's a lovely city now, I've been and I hope to go again. And the next time I will think about Erich Kästner and all his wonderful novels.

From the back cover:

"Autobiography by the author of 'Emil', detailing his childhood in Dresden and giving behind the scenes insight as to how some of the most famous children's books came to be written.

'When I Was a Little Boy' begins with a lament for Dresden: 'I was born in the most beautiful city in the world. Even if your father, child, was the richest man in the world, he could not take you to see it, because it does not exist anymore. (...) In a thousand years was her beauty built, in one night was it utterly destroyed.'"


  1. I like biographies, but hadn't heard of this one. Have you read Boy by Roald Dahl? If you like his writing you'd probably like it.

    1. No, I haven't. It's been on my list for ages, though, so I might try to get it soon, after you reminded me of it.

      A lot of Erich Kästner's books have been translated but I know they don't promote foreign writers much in the US. If you come across him, he is a funny writer, very observant.

  2. How sad that he lost his home city. How good that it has been rebuilt.

    1. Dresden was probably the most bombed city in all of Germany but because it ws in the East, they didn't just pull it down and build something new. No money. Therefore, when the wall came down, a lot of the buildings were still standing, albeit in very bad condition. Now it is probably one of our prettiest cities.

    2. That is a little history lesson right there.

    3. Thank you. We all know stuff about our countries that others might never heard of. In any case, I highly recommend visiting Dresden if you ever come to Germany.

  3. Hello! I am a father of a little girl called Alice. She's 5 1/2 years old. When I was a little boy, while living in London, at the age of 7 my mother brought me my first serious novel - it was Emil and the Detectives! An utterly wonderful book, hence lost, I'm 47, but brought again, and read to Alice while she was drawing the characters and scenes, captured by Erich's writing! We are currently reading Emil and the Three Twins, and Alice is juggling with all the details, like she did with the first book, anticipating, reaching her own conclusions, eager to hear what will happen next! Erich's books have a subtle and just underlying moral, with a lot of opening opportunities for discussion, which I think is great for little children to develop their own sense of what's right and wrong!
    Great writer, a full circle experience with my daughter.
    Lovely blog, very interesting, discovered it just now!
    Looking forward to reading more...

  4. How wonderful. Thank you for your comment. I don't know whether you will see this answer, so I will keep it short this time.
    Have you read "The Parent Trap" with her, I remember really loving that as a child.
    Happy Reading!