With snow and ice interfering with everyone’s ability to get out and about, there’s never been a better excuse to curl up with a book, preferably a childhood favourite. Although not really a fan of Dutch adult literature – too serious and a consistent lack of wackiness – I have nothing but fond memories of the books I used to read as a child. Not all of these authors have been translated but many of their books are worth checking out for their artwork alone.
1. Paul Biegel
Although this author has been extremely prolific, my personal favourite is his Kleine Kapitein (Little Captain) series. These books narrate how four children, one of them being the captain that gives the series its title, set out on a fantastic journey around the world. Their adventures include encounters with giants, a visit to a mysterious city ruled by a lovesick dictator, and the discovery of a magical treasure. Nodding to ancient fairytales and Greek myths, the books are an ode to fantasy and philosophy, and never afraid to make fun of adults and their inability to dream.
2. Tonke Dragt
Aiming at slightly older readers, Dragt wrote young adult fiction before the term even exited. Always up for experimentation she explored mystery, fantasy and historical genres, with me preferring her science fiction stories. While Torenhoog en Mijlen Breed and Ogen van Tijgers are poetic narratives set on a completely urbanized earth and beautifully lush rendition of Venus, her most intriguing book is De Torens van Februari. This bizarre text, supposedly based on actual notes submitted to Dragt by a timetraveller, explores the possibility of parallel universes and is, quite literally, mindbending.
3. Thea Beckman
Loved in particular by readers who like big books, Beckman’s rise to fame can be credited to her ability to produce long and well-researched historical novels. Often covering forgotten parts of Dutch history, she never sacrificed readability to facts, and liked to create outsider characters that never quite fit in with their societies. Start with Saartje Tadema for a fascinating account of Amsterdam’s history, seen through the eyes of a decidedly feminist orphan.
4. Joke van Leeuwen
An illustrator as much as a writer, Joke van Leeuwen’s stories are enjoyable even if you can’t read Dutch. Her experiments range from Escher-like pen drawings to collage and painting and often features “ugly” children with big feet and bad hair. Check out Deesje in particular for its magnificent drawings of cityscapes, or try Een Huis Met Zeven Kamers for an interesting blend of prose, poetry and graphic novel elements.
5. Toon Tellegen
Known in particular for his short stories about animals, the subject of multiple collections that are as melancholic as they are funny. Characters such as The Hedgehog and The Elephant celebrate the birthday of the forest, lose their identities only to rediscover them, and teach readers the value of friendship in a non-cheesy way. But don’t skip Mijn Avonturen door V. Swchwrm, a delightfully absurd story about a boy who wants to become a writer but struggles because, as everyone knows, coming up with a decent first sentence is always the hardest part.
Image Pixabay.com via Pexels