Dot & Anton
By Erich Kastner
Published by Pushkin Children’s Books
ISBN 978 1 78269 057 3
Some authors write a book that becomes so famous that everything else they write afterwards plays second fiddle. This is certainly the case with the German author, Erich Kastner. His first children’s book, Emil and the Detectives was first published in 1929 and since then has been translated into at least sixty languages and has sold millions of copies all over the world.
Two years after Emil, Kastner wrote Dot & Anton, the story of an unlikely secret friendship between a young boy and girl in pre-War Berlin. Out of print in an English translation for many years, last year Pushkin Children’s Book made the brilliant move of publishing a new translation of the book complete with original illustrations.
Dot and Anton live in Berlin in the 1930s. Dot comes from a rich family and she has a very eccentric personality. She loves play-acting, dressing up her pet dachshund and making up strange-sounding words. She frustrates her parents with her fun-loving character. They want her to be well-behaved and dull all the time. No chance!
Her best friend is Anton, a bright young boy from a very different social background. He lives in a tiny flat with his mother and the two of them are struggling to make ends meet. Frau Gast has recently had a cancer operation, and she is taking a long time to recover. Anton is now the family’s bread-winner.
But these two kids from opposite social stations are kindred spirits, and it’s that that matters. And, of course, they have a secret. Every night when Dot’s parents go out to the opera or to a dinner party, Dot sneaks out of the house with her new nanny, Miss Andacht. Both of them are dressed as beggars, and they spend the evening on the Weidendammer Bridge selling matches.
And most evenings, Anton takes up his position on the other side of the bridge, selling shoelaces. He has to do this to earn money for food. But why are Dot and Miss Andacht on the streets pretending to be beggars?
The plot of Dot & Anton is slight because this is a book where the characters are the reason for reading. Dot and Anton are two of the most entertaining personalities in children’s literature, and Kastner surrounds them with a cast of other engaging bit players.
Yes, the book is old-fashioned and of another time, but it does wear its age well. Pushkin Children’s Books are doing a good job bringing gems like Dot & Anton to modern readers. Read this engaging book and you will most certainly feel happy.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com