Category: Children's Books

Sonja Bougaeva
Zwei Schwestern bekommen Besuch
[Two sisters have a visitor]

Review

Most people are thrilled when their beloved relatives announce that they’re going to pay a visit – especially if they haven’t seen them for some time. And the two sisters who give the book its title are no exception. Already somewhat elderly, they live in peace and quiet in their cosy little house on an island. Their cousin comes to stay – and because he’s of a practical bent, he’s barely arrived before he starts making good all the little deficiencies in their house. The old ladies are delighted. But their cousin keeps on finding new spheres of activity – and with every renovation and (so he thinks) improvement, the sisters’ home becomes ever less cosy. The animals are banished to the garden for hygiene reasons; the sisters’ diet is amended, and they are forced to start every day with sport. Polite as they are, they let their cousin do as he likes, but become unhappier by the day, and eventually fall ill. That’s when they decide that they really must say something to him after all. But by an amazing stroke of luck, their cousin has already decided that he’s not going to stay a moment longer with his „ungrateful“ relatives, and hops on the next ferry. Relieved, all the inhabitants – animals and humans alike – set about restoring their home to its original state.

With this short story and highly expressive illustrations, Sonja Bougaeva manages to deal with several questions at the same time, all of which play an important role in the lives of adults as well as children. To what extent are other people allowed to poke their noses into my life? How polite should you be if you feel that things are going wrong? Who knows the „right“ way to live? Are you supposed to be grateful for things you don’t remotely want?

Sonja Bougaeva doesn’t answer these questions, instead leaving the reader to think about them. In her story, fortunately enough, the problem sorts itself out, but it’s clear that conflict would have been unavoidable, had their cousin not happened to leave when he did. And so the sisters still think kindly of their cousin afterwards; it’s just „ such a pity he went off in a huff.“

In this book, the author addresses the issues of tolerance and politeness in a way that corresponds perfectly to children’s imaginations. The illustrations are large and intensely colourful, and the sisters are depicted in such a way that we are guaranteed to sympathise with them: fat, friendly and contented, they radiate huge amounts of warmth and cosiness. But the further the story progresses, the more they slump; the corners of their mouths start to turn down, and helplessness and dismay spread across their faces. At the same time their cousin, with all his hard work and good intentions, is even to small children evidently not a „baddie“ – the different characters simply have different ideas.

It’s entirely possible that bright children reading this book could ask themselves questions about the boundaries of parental authority; you just have to think of those tiresome discussions about messy playrooms or the thank-you call to Granny for the most recent pair of pyjamas. If you’re not scared of that, then this book will be a real addition to your children’s library.
Heike Friesel

By Heike Friesel, 18.11.2005

Translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby