I’ve asked friend and fellow blogger Aunty Uta about her favorite children’s books. Aunty Uta grew up in Germany during World War II. I find her personal perspective on something as universally applicable as children’s books during such a tumultuous time fascinating. Aunty Uta immigrated to Australia with her husband Peter in 1959. There, they raised four children. They have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Aunty Uta just turned eighty.
1) Do you have a favorite book from childhood? Feel free to mention more than one.
Fairy Tales, Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Struwwelpeter, Max and Moritz.
2) Who did you read with as a child?
Well, anyone who happened to be around may have volunteered: Father, mother, aunts, uncles, older cousins, grandmother. I particularly loved reading with my little brother, Bodo.
3) Tell us about him.
Bodo and I shared a love of scary stories, especially illustrated fairy tale…
3) Tell us about him.
Bodo and I shared a love of scary stories, especially illustrated fairy tale books. The pictures stimulated our minds, and reinforced basic morals such as that it is better to be good, and that evil people end up in a bad way. Even when the stories were very frightening, we felt safe for we knew they were just make-believe.
4) What do you feel when you recall the book/time spent reading it?
I feel grateful for having had this stimulation as a young child before I could read myself.
5) Can you elaborate on how World War II affected your life, particularly reading?
At age nine, in 1943/44, I read all ten Nesthäkchen books, written by, Else Ury, a Jewish author whose works were banned after the Nazis came to power. A friend of my mother loaned me the books. It was only later that I made the grim discovery that Ury was murdered by the Nazis, which troubled me deeply.
6) In addition to books being banned, do you recall other ways your life was impacted by the war?
After the war, books became scarce. But I read everything I could get my hands on, including a few adult books available from the lending library, which cost one or two Marks, depending on the size of the book.
I lived in the American sector of Berlin, where some years later, the Americans established a beautiful library. All books were in English and on loan for free. I had enough English to be able to utilize this library regularly.
In April 1945, we were in a bomb raid in Leipzig at grandmother’s place. We were in the cellar and the four-story very solid apartment building above us got completely destroyed by bombs. My three-year old brother Peter did not get scared, but six-year-old Bodo was very frightened. I comforted him by telling him that the bombing would soon stop. And really it lasted only for a very short time. We climbed out of the rubble, and were relieved to discover no one was injured. Just a few weeks later the war was finished.
My high school was closed for nine months, so my only access to books during this time was from my grandmother’s collection.
7) Did you share books from your childhood with your children?
Our children here in Australia had reading material that was probably similar to what kids in America grow up with. But they became familiar with a few German books as well.
We took our children to well-equipped children’s sections in libraries, something that was unavailable to me in Germany when I was a kid.
8) What other books did you share with children?
Mary Poppins was very popular. We still have quite a few children’s books stored somewhere in the house that our children used to own. I would have to get them out of storage to remember all the titles!
9) What about the book appealed most to you and the children?
Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our children here in Australia had no extended family around. Reading was done by either my husband or me. When our children were three and four years old they loved Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They loved the story and they loved thepictures. The illustrations were such that the children would want to look at them again and again.
Monika had not started school yet and spoke with us only German. The book was in English and she could recall every word of it. She liked pretending she was reading the book from beginning to end!
When our eldest child, Gaby, was in hospital with Polio, people used to give her some beautiful children’s books and read to her. She picked up English in hospital very quickly. When we went once a week to Sydney to visit her, she would still speak in German to us. She was five at the time.
10) Were these details different from your own preferences as a child?
No, I think children just love to look at illustrations. Good illustrations make young children want to listen to the story. I used to know by heart Struwwelpeter as well as Max and Moritz. Both these books have wonderful illustrations. All our children are familiar with these books too.
11) Do you have any thoughts on universal themes of children’s books, or do you think what appeals to children today differs from your own childhood recollections? If different, please elaborate.
I cannot recall that I had any cartoon books as a child. I think these days every child would have come across some cartoon books.
12) Do you think it is more important to entertain/imagine or have an underlying message?
I don’t know what’s more important. Children should be made familiar with different kinds of children’s books. I think I loved as a child books with underlying messages, and these books were entertaining at the same time. My brother and I loved to talk a lot about imaginary things, probably due to some stimulating books.