Category: Children's Books

Karen Holländer
Thilo Krapp (Illustrator)

Ach hätte - könnte - wäre ich
[If only I had – could – were]

Review

When the beast of envy goes on the rampage

Envy is one of those ugly sensations that almost everyone experiences but no one likes admitting to. Julie is no more free of it than anyone else, and she starts a merry dance of desires and envy that finds a happy resolution only in the person of bald but cheerful Fred.

For on her head Julie has a mass of unruly curls — but would much rather have nice straight hair like Princess Clara. She in her turn would like to be a little bit fatter and gazes longingly at the splendid round belly of Cookie Jones. But Cookie Jones can’t cook dumplings as tasty as Otto’s, whereas Otto is discontented with his tiny house. And so it goes on: there are a thousand wonderful things that we wish we could have or do, and there’s always someone else to make us feel envious. This puts us in a bad mood, of course… Yet sometimes we encounter people who are utterly content with their lot and who journey through life with positively infectious cheerfulness — such as bustling Fred, who most of all enjoys organising parties for everyone else, and brings the dance to a close at last by not envying Julie her beautiful curls.

With this dance of envy, cleverly illustrated and neatly rhymed, Karen Holländer and Thilo Krapp have created a children’s book that has all the makings of a classic. Catchy couplets convey first the respective character’s supposed shortcomings, and then their corresponding yearnings, which, if fulfilled, would instantly make their longed-for ideal a reality. An entire double-page spread is devoted to each character and their aspirations, with Krapp’s illustrations offering a mix of drawings and collage. He by no means limits himself to merely illustrating the actual text, however, but also supplements it with numerous little additions of his own: pirates discovering treasure by a lake, for instance, or a smart lady appearing through a door from nowhere to serve coffee. The illustrator’s playful humour is evident, too, in the little green crocodile that lurks on every page somewhere and provides a wordless commentary on proceedings. For the little reader there is an inexhaustible supply of talking points here.

The message of this book is plain enough, yet at the same time it is agreeably and effectively masked by the amusingness of the envious characters’ aspirations and the inventiveness of the illustrations, with the result that there is plenty for the reader to learn without ever feeling lectured at — a quality that most children greatly appreciate in a book!
Heike Friesel

By Heike Friesel, 07.11.2007

Translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby