Emil and the Detectives

This book was originally published in German in 1929, translated into English in 1930 by May Massee. I had heard of it for many years but had never read it, so I scarfed it up when I saw it lying in a box on a free table at a homeschool support group meeting or used curriculum fair. Emil Tischbein is a young (pre-teen or early teen) boy who travels by train from his home in Neustadt to visit relatives in Berlin with 140 marks in an envelope pinned to the inside of his jacket. He falls asleep on the train beside a somewhat strange man, and when he wakes up, the man and his money are gone! The rest of the book tells the story of how Emil arrives in Berlin, tries to locate the man, and is helped by a crowd of other boy “detectives” whom he meets. Is the man really the thief or is it all some big mistake? And does Emil ever get his money back?

This was a very pleasant and enjoyable book to read. It is especially interesting to see how the author actually puts himself in the story. Many good qualities are exhibited. Emil is an especially polite boy, and his detective friends are quite loyal and willing to do what is best to help the whole group rather than always demanding their own way. With its enduring themes of leadership, courage, and teamwork, there are many lessons to be learned by the grownups and the children, alike. The only objectionable items are a few common euphemisms and some minor references to smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. Erich Kastner (1899-1974) was one of the best-known international children’s authors of the twentieth century and was awarded the American Library Association Mildred L. Batchelder Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and he was also the author of The Little Man, The Flying Classroom, Emil and the Three Twins, and Lisa and Lottie, among others. Emil and the Detectives was his first book. Though written many years ago, the book is still in print and available. I should think that most children would like it.

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