- Kindgemäss und literarisch wertvoll. Untersuchungen zur Theorie des „guten Jugendbuchs“ – Anna Krüger, Richard Bamberger, Karl Ernst Maier by Sonja Müller
In her doctoral thesis “Suitable for children and of literary value,” defended in 2012, Sonja Müller examines a brief and little studied phase in the development of children’s literature theory in the young German federal republic.
In the 1950s and 60s, theories on the “good children’s book” were built on the visions of the postwar period for international understanding, as exemplified by the International Youth Library in Munich; they became established with the creation of institutions promoting quality children’s literature, such as the Arbeitskreis für Jugendschrifttum (Working committee for youth literature) or the Deutsche Jugendbuchpreis (German children’s literature award), and they paved the way for more intensive scholarly research in children’s literature—as in Frankfurt, where Klaus Doderer founded the Institut für Jugendbuchforschung (Institute for the Study of Children’s Literature) in 1963. In the [End Page 64] study “Histories of children’s literature” (2013) by Andrea Weinmann, this theory is hardly mentioned and is dismissed as irrelevant. Following the paradigm shift of the 1970s, theories of the “good children’s book” appear dated, even though their prime time coincided with the rise of a new kind of children’s literature, practiced by James Krüss or Otfried Preußler, which advocated the autonomous child.
Müller’s study chronicles the histories both of the institutions and of the theoretical debates; she sketches the prehistory beginning in 1896 with Heinrich Wolgast’s call for aesthetically valuable children’s literature, followed by theories of reading-age, all the way to the “filth-and-trash” debates of the 1950s. Her focus is on three scholars who discuss children’s literature in different ways—looking at its aesthetic qualities, the suitability of its forms and media for children, and last but not least, its pedagogical benefit.
The first of these chapters, which explore both the theories and the practice of contemporary literary criticism, presents Anna Krüger, who meticulously defined the concept of the good children’s book and attributed particular importance to the linguistic and literary qualities. Pedagogical issues are less important in her eyes; instead, she welcomes imagination and creative freedom, invokes Astrid Lindren, and supports the young generation of German-speaking authors. Despite all this, she considers even the best children’s book to be inferior to first-rate adult literature because writing for child addressees imposes limitations, such as not using experimental narrative devices. From the work of Krüger, who was denied a brilliant academic career, Sonja Müller goes on to present the ideas of the influential Austrian literary historian Richard Bamberger and of Karl Ernst Maier, whose literary histories continued to serve as textbooks in the 1980s. Bamberger and Maier share more conservative positions: Bamberger attaching more value to literacy, Maier to pedagogy.
The three main chapters are accompanied by several shorter ones which sketch the contributions of other leading figures to the debate on what was to be considered good children’s literature. These figures include Walter Scherf, long-term director of the International Youth Library, and Malte Dahrendorf, who radically revoked his own theory on the good book in the 1970s. Building on the groundwork of her supervisor, Hans Heino Ewers, Müller succeeds in giving a dense account of the spectrum of theoretical concepts, teasing out the various constellations of progressive and conservative ideas underpinning them. The theories of the “good book” for young readers emerged when the prosperity in the young federal republic opened up new realms of experience for children; they declined in the mid-sixties when youth culture encouraged a massive culture of protest which led to...