Emil and the Detectives

Jacket front side: Emil and the Detectives
EinbCover of the children’s book Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner with the title illustration of the first edition of 1929 by Walter Trier
© Atrium Verlag, Zürich

Emil and the Detectives

A children’s book classic by Erich Kästner, 1929

The cars! They bustled quickly past the tram; honked their horns, screeched, extended red pointers left and right, turned the corner; (…) What a noise! And the masses of people on the pavements! And on all sides, trams, carriages, double-decker buses! (...) And the tall, tall buildings. So this was Berlin.

Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives, 1929

Emil Kästner’s children’s book Emil and the Detectives has been one of the most-read German children’s books for decades. The story of Emil Tischbein, a boy from a small town who hunts a thief in 1920s Berlin, has been reprinted countless times since its first publication in 1929 and has been adapted numerous times for the screen, stage and radio and also turned into comic book versions and even board games. The three best-known film versions of the novel were made in 1931, 1954 and 2001 and all updated the settings to the time the films were made. In 1934 Kästner wrote a literary sequel with the title Emil and the Three Twins. Like the original, this was also illustrated by Walter Trier.

The children’s book, which was commissioned by the publisher Edith Jacobssohn, was highly unusual for its time: Kästner dispensed with the pedagogical tone commonly found in children’s books and especially in fairy tales. Instead he captivated his young readers with realistic background description, an exciting crime story and child role models who act with impressive self-confidence – especially when dealing with adults. The use of genuine colloquialisms also contributed to the authenticity of the novel.