Heidi learns that the world is static and directed by God. Although she is disturbed that her grandfather and relatives are poor and must struggle merely to subsist, the grandmother in Frankfurt brings her to believe that God wants it that way and that material poverty is insignificant when one considers the real meaning of richness: to be rich means possessing faith in God and behaving like a good Christian—that is, making sacrifices to benefit the wealthy and looking forward to paradise in the world hereafter.
While the simple, pious community of the Swiss village is contrasted with the false, brutal life in the city, Spyri does nothing to explain the real contradictions between city and country. The hard life in the Swiss mountains becomes idyllic. There the people are pure and closer to God. The world of Switzerland caters to the escapist tendencies of readers who might seek release from the perplexing, difficult conditions of urban life.
Heidi, too, is a figure of the infantile, regressive fantasy which desires a lost innocence that never was. Since natural equals Christian in this book, there is no way in which children can comprehend what really is a natural or socially conditioned drive. In both instances, the classical stature of the books is closely linked to their commodity value.
It is in opposition to classical books like Struwwelpeter and Heidi and in keeping with broad socialist goals that books like Waechter's Der Anti-Struwwelpeter 10 have come into existence.
Since the recent production of anti-authoritarian and socialist children's literature depends heavily on the policies of collectives and publishing firms, three typical organizations and their products will serve as examples to illustrate the general tendencies in this field. The three are Basis, Weismann, and Rowohlt. Basis Verlag, like Oberbaum and Das rote Kinderbuch, 11 developed from a collective which worked in daycare and youth centers during the late s and has continued this work, largely in Berlin.
The members of Basis are socialists, who see their task as preparing the base for a new socialist society.
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Their main emphasis is on the production of books for children between the ages of four and twelve, although they have also produced a comic book and photographic story for apprentices who work in factories. In they also began publishing a complementary series of theoretical studies which either demonstrate how to use their own children's books or deal with general problems such as the ideological contents of pictures and illustrations and the real meaning of comic book heroes. The Basis books for children were developed at a time when the anti-authoritarian phase of the New Left was coming to an end in West Germany—that is, the phase when arbitrary authority was defied for the sake of defying authority.
Though there are some anti-authoritarian elements in Basis books, their main goal is to demonstrate how working collectively can lead to a greater sense of oneself and the world and to the resolution of problems confronting children in their everyday lives. Then we called up our friends and asked them if they would like to dress up and play a knight, poet, king, or bear.
And when they all said yes, then we acted out the entire story, and Ute photographed us. Dieter and Reiner printed the pictures and the story, and in the end, the bookbinders made the book into a real book. The story concerns two poets who want to write a book for children but really don't know children all that well. Both think up traditional stories: one deals with a bear who is big and strong and goes fishing, and the other, with a loyal knight who departs to fight for his king. The two stories come together as the bear meets the knight in the woods.
They decide to go play with the children in the local neighborhood set in the present instead of fishing and fighting. The poets become angry that their heroes have abandoned their traditional roles and story-lines and go searching for them. They come across some knights who, sent by the king to fight against the peasants, have been soundly defeated.
The poets complain that this normally does not happen in stories, but the knights argue that something is wrong with the usual stories since the peasants had never harmed them—that is, until the king had sent them to destroy the peasants.
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They all decide to turn against the king, and with the help of the bear, the loyal knight, and the children, they capture the king, stuff him, and set him up as a monument in a park as a warning to all monarchs. The country then belongs to everyone and is renamed country of the knights, peasants, poets, bears, and children. Here the traditional manner of telling fairy tales which glorify feudalism is criticized in a novel way. The subtle use of photographs and comics adds to the Brechtian estrangement effect, which prompts children to think critically and creatively throughout the story.
The main difficulty with the narrative is that the social message and aesthetic innovations are perhaps too complex for a child to understand alone. This story uses only photographs and combines elements from well-known folktales to illustrate housing problems in the city. Four young people all in their twenties decide to live together: Schlienz, who can smell extraordinarily well; Minzl, who can hear long distances; Gorch, who can run faster than cars; and Atta, who is tremendously strong.
They rent an apartment, and the landlord tries to cheat them. However, they are too smart for him, and ultimately they set up a collective household which runs smoothly until the landlord raises the rent arbitrarily. The four decide to organize the tenants in the entire building to fight and protest the hike in rent, and they use their extraordinary talents to unite the tenants and take over the building.
However, since the people come from different classes a teacher, bank clerk, metal worker, insurance inspector, and railroad worker and have different interests, the landlord is able to play upon the divisiveness in the coalition and, with the help of the police, defeat the strike. Schlienz, Minzl, Gorch, and Atta are arrested.
Nevertheless, while in prison, they reconsider their strategy and make plans so that they can be successful the next time they try to organize the tenants. The book closes with a series of newspaper articles about landlords cheating tenants.
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The photographs in this story combine humor with accurate depictions of housing conditions. The remarkable talents of the heroes are not so fantastic that they might lead children to have unreal expectations of their own powers. The fact that the four heroes two men and two women do not succeed shows to what extent the authors clearly understand the stage of the social struggle within the cities. Here the emphasis is not so much on gaining a victory but on creating a sense of need for collective action. When she goes on a quest to find out the answers, information about salaries, work conditions, rents, and social classes is conveyed to her and, of course, to the readers.
This information is incorporated into the story through questions, comics, photographs, and charts. After numerous adventures, Renate and two friends come across two young factory workers who spend time with them to clarify everything and who explain that the social contradictions can only be overcome by workers who learn to trust one another and cooperate to take over the means of production. Only through this type of action will the social disparities that confront Renate during the day be eliminated. Krach auf Kohls Spielplatz is for three-year-olds.
Andrea is troubled by Theo Kohl, who controls the playground because his father is rich and owns the construction company which employs most of the parents living in the housing settlement and neighborhood.
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Theo manages to bribe Joachim, the strongest boy, with candy to act as "law enforcer"—that is, until Andrea and the other children get together and unite to defeat Theo and Joachim and set up mutually beneficial rules of play. Though the book is instructive in pointing out the link between a bully and the possession of money, the language and pictures of the story are so devoid of imagination that the message will have only a minimal effect upon young readers. This is not the case with Krokodil , written for and by five-year-olds. The book is a sort of documentary children's story, for it is based on a newspaper article about seven African children, who save one of their comrades with their bare hands from being devoured by a crocodile.
When the article was read to children in a preschool class and then discussed, the children reacted positively to the manner in which the African children united to protect their friend from the crocodile at the risk of their own lives. At one point the teacher introduced the idea of doing a picture book about this story together. The children were skeptical since they knew nothing about book production, but the teacher explained how books were put together and encouraged the children so that they realized it was possible to make their own book.
After the children drew pictures and helped compose a text, they selected which pictures were to appear as illustrations. The result: a unique book, with startling, colorful, and concrete pictures about collective action which reinforces not only the concept of solidarity but displays as well how the collective skills of children can be practically put to use to develop their own awareness of socially responsible action.
Yet, they are not happy because all the profits go to the robbers, who use their weapons to intimidate the villagers. Finally, the children, who are also forced to labor in a manner which they dislike, devise a plan to capture the robbers. The remarkable feature of this story is that it explains the aspects of robbery stemming from capitalist production in a concrete, humorous manner without becoming heavily theoretical.
The clear descriptions and explicit language of the narrative enhance the emancipatory value of this story, which is geared toward enabling young readers to understand the work process as a form of liberation. Generally speaking, Basis books are directly related to the actual class struggles in West Germany. The major figures are from the working class, and the contents of the stories are, broadly speaking, of utmost concern to the underprivileged in society and lead to developing class consciousness.
Some of the stories tend to be too didactic as if the significance of the message itself were enough to strike the imagination of children. Obviously, this is a failing which Basis of late has been attempting to rectify. For the most part, the language of the books is vigorous and blunt; colloquialisms and curses are used because children are accustomed to hearing them in their surroundings—used to explain their surroundings.
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The authors do not talk down to the children. They employ a great deal of irony in the depictions, and the techniques of photography, comics, and montage dialectically enhance the communicability of the theory. The books are children's books in that the production is geared to a child's standpoint and in that children often participate in the production. At the same time, the books also transcend the category of "children" or "childish," for adults can learn and enjoy in producing and reading them.
The books of Weismann Verlag 15 also point in this direction. A socialist collective which is not as active as the Basis Verlag in day-care and youth centers, the Weismann group has published over ten books, mainly by teenagers. The Weismann books are not as directly concerned with immediate German social problems.
One book, Herr Bertolt Brecht sagt Mr.