Kate De Goldi discusses children’s literature with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand Saturday Morning
Nothing by Janne Teller (pronounced ya-na)
What a tragic tale this is. It comes with an endorsement by David Almond. Teller is German Danish and lives between Scandinavia and the USA. What the Scandinavians bring to literature are well-stocked minds for starters, and also a preoccupation with the existential.
This book has gone viral in European world. She wrote it in 2000. Does it have a target audience? This is one defining feature of YA fiction in Europe. They tend to approach a book as a book rather than targeting a particular age. That said, De Goldi recommends for the first time in her life, thinking about the sensibility of your teenager before you give it to them. It’s very dark, and not in ways that she has ever come across before in a YA novel.
When Pierre-Anthon realizes there is no meaning to life, the seventh-grader leaves his classroom, climbs a tree, and stays there. His classmates cannot make him come down, not even by pelting him with rocks. So to prove to Pierre-Anthon that life has meaning, the children decide to give up things of importance. The pile starts with the superficial—a fishing rod, a new pair of shoes. But as the sacrifices become more extreme, the students grow increasingly desperate to get Pierre-Anthon down, to justify their belief in meaning.
Realism is slightly suspended in this book, kind of like a fable.
Much of the disturbance comes from not knowing what’s going to happen. It starts off in fairytale benign fashion and it gets to a point where you think, ‘Oh my goodness, no!’
For all that, it’s a really interesting book, with a good translation into English. Although the acts are confronting, the reader is not manipulated by the way it’s written. It’s just a laying-out of what happens next. It’s asking us to confront the business of living, and at 14 that’s when one first becomes aware of aloneness in the world, and wonders what it’s all about. This story simply won’t shrink from that. There’s no happy ending. They go off to their new schools and the reader feels they’ll have to work around this one year in their young lives for the rest of their lives.
Read with care and discuss afterwards.
A Great Cake by Tina Matthews
The third book from this author – a trade picturebook with much else going on, the sort of book we get when we first go to school. It has all the charm and genius of a perfectly shaped story, where repetition beds in the comfort and delight of the reader. One thing changes at the end which slightly tweaks the story. The pictures are glorious, as well-crafted as the story is.