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German history: a children’s book

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German history picture book: the 1930s

German history picture book: the 1940s

The Spiegel describes a picture book of German history written for children and how it confronts the country’s worst era, without quite talking about it:

The illustration shows a gang of children in Hitler Youth uniforms marching down the street, banging a drum and waving a swastika-emblazoned flag. On the next page, the aftermath of the war can be seen. Children play among the ruins of bombed-out buildings, dejected refugees walk past with suitcases and money changes hands for black market goods.

It sounds like a hard-hitting adult graphic novel about the Third Reich, such as Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus.” But the work in question, “Die Strasse” (“The Street”), is aimed at children as young as five. The recently published book tells the history of Germany’s turbulent last 100 years through the prism of a single street and an apartment building which is home to two families. A series of double-page spreads in the style of the “Where’s Waldo?” books shows how the street changes over the decades from 1911 to the present day.

“It’s a book that you can look at with the whole family,” says co-author Christa Holtei. “Everyone can talk about their memories of the time and explain a bit about how things were.”

Inevitably, the book’s center of gravity is the Third Reich period and the devastation of the immediate postwar period, when the rebuilding of Germany began. But dealing with such historical events in a children’s book presents certain challenges. “The problem is how to address such a terrible subject without directly confronting the children with the horror,” says illustrator Gerda Raidt, who developed the idea for the book together with the publisher, Germany’s Beltz & Gelberg. “That’s why I tried to incorporate little hints all over the pictures.”

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 24, 2011 at 3:50 am

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