#DutchKidLit – Historical Fiction and the 2014, 2015 Batchelder Awards

“The Batchelder Award is awarded to a United States publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originating in a country other than the United States and in a language other than English and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States during the preceding year.”

Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association

Mildred L. Batchelder was an American school librarian and career ALA ambassador for children and children’s literature who believed in the power of stories to make the world a better place. Her focus was on books that were translated into English from countries outside the United States, believing that sharing intercultural literary works would help foster international-mindedness and greater empathy for all people no matter where they lived. She wanted to connect young readers to the global village, knowing that intentionally reading #WorldKidLit in translation had the potential “to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages.”

2014 and 2015 were big years for #DutchKidLit and the Batchelder celebrations. In 2014, Mister Orange by Truus Matti, illutrated by Jenni Desmond and translated by Laura Watkinson, received the Batchelder Award and The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki and translated by Laura Watkinson, was one of three honor books that year. The following year Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman and translated by Laura Watkinson, won the award, and Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen, was one of two honor books that year.

The four books featured here, three middle grade and one Young Adult, are outstanding choices for bringing #DutchKidLit historical fiction and unique international perspectives into classrooms and libraries.

2014 Batchelder Award Winner Mister Orange by Truus Matti

Review shared by GLLI contibutor Nanette McGuinness from her post “#WorldKidLit Wednesday: Mister Orange

The story begins in 1943 New York City, when Linus’ oldest brother Albie has just enlisted to fight in WWII. With Albie gone, Simon, the next brother down, will take over his job. Thus Linus will have to step into Simon’s shoes, literally and figuratively: literally because the family passes each precious pair of shoes down from one child to the next and figuratively because Linus is about to move into Simon’s old job of making deliveries for the family’s green grocery delivery service. Albie and Linus get along well with each other; Simon, not so much.

Linus is an imaginative kid who loves comic books—a relatively new genre that began in the 1930s—as does Albie. Before Albie leaves for boot camp, he entrusts Linus with the huge sum of two dollars to buy the next volumes in their favorite series while he’s away at war.

As the story unfolds, Linus delivers groceries, deals with his worries by conjuring up his alter ego (a comic book hero named Mister Superspeed) and ponders the role of art and imagination in a brutal world at war with itself. These are big issues for a 12-year-old to have to face. Along the way we learn about boogie-woogie, the future and a mysterious artist. But unless young readers or their parents already know about Mondrian and the name of his painting, Victory Boogie Woogie, though, they won’t discover who Mister Orange is based on until they read the lovingly detailed, excellent back matter.

So just who is Mister Orange? Modeled after renowned Dutch artist Piet Mondrian—who spent the war years in New York before dying of pneumonia in 1944—Mr. Orange is the family’s newest customer, who ordered a weekly crate of oranges from Simon right before Linus took over the route. (Since Simon did not get the customer’s name down on the order form clearly, Linus mentally christens him Mr. Orange.) They become unlikely friends of a sort, sharing an orange and a chat with each week’s delivery. Mister Orange tells Linus at one point, “If imagination were as harmless as you think, then the Nazis wouldn’t be so scared of it.” 

Reviews:

“This poignant story of a large working-class family living in New York City tells how ‘Mister Orange’ and WWII change Linus’ life.” — Maureen White, Batchelder Award chair

“Written with clarity and simplicity, this accessible book features deftly drawn characters and a nuanced view of family life on the American home front, as well as insights into Mondrian’s personality and paintings. An original.” — Booklist starred review

“When his older brother enlists in 1943, Linus Muller assumes family responsibilities that introduce him to ‘Mister Orange’, Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). At once a coming of age story and a celebration of the power of art, Mister Orange beautifully captures Linus’ awaking to the larger world around him.” — via Dutch Foundation for Literature

“Matti draws an exceptionally sensitive portrait of introspective Linus and his understanding of what war is and what it does to its victims. A quiet novel, but a deeply touching one.”
Publishers Weekly

Explore:

Read more about Mondrian’s unfinished painting Victory Boogie-Woogie at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague’s website (Dutch).

There are lovely photos of the dust jacket, endpapers, and illustrations by Jenni Desmond on her website.

You can purchase the book here.

2014 Batchelder Honor Winner The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax

I had to wear an armband, too.
I was no longer allowed to go out with my friends.
I was not permitted to sit with them on a bench or to play soccer in the park.
I had never felt so Jewish before…

The War Within These Walls

“Father’s Warsaw grew more and more crowded. Day in, day out, long lines of people streamed into the ghetto. All of the Jews from the entire city of Warsaw, the outlying districts, and the villages around the city were ‘relocated,’ as the Germans put it. All of them, within these walls… .

Endless lines of people. Carts and homemade trolleys piled high with household goods, crying children, sick people, old people. Throughout the ghetto you could feel the newcomers streaming in. They were looking for a place to live. A room, a basement, an attic. A dry spot among the rubble of a bombed-out house. Like dirty water, they kept on pouring into the mouth and nostrils of the ghetto. Until it would be impossible for us to breathe.” — The War Within These Walls

“With powerful text and stark illustrations, this novella provides a harrowing account of Jewish suffering in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.  Misha’s poetic first-person account tells of his struggle to survive. Together with a band of revolutionaries, they make a courageous stand to tell the world their story.” — ALA News

Awards:
ALA 2014 Mildred D. Batchelder Honor
2014 USBBY Outstanding International Books List
2014 National Social Studies Trade Books for Young People List
2013 ALA/JBC National Jewish Book Award Honorable Mention

Explore:

Discussion Guides for The War Within These Walls via Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Book trailer for The War Within These Walls via Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

2015 Batchelder Award Winner Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

“One day, Mikis’s grandfather has a surprise for him: a new donkey waiting! Mikis falls in love with the creature, but his grandparents tell him that the donkey is a working animal, not a pet. However, they still let Mikis choose her name — Tsaki — and allow the two of them to spend their Sundays together. Mikis and Tsaki soon become fast friends, and together the two have some grand adventures. Eventually, both Mikis and his grandfather learn a bit more about what exactly it means to care for another creature.

Brought to life by drawings from Philip Hopman, Bibi Dumon Tak’s gentle, humorous story is perfect for any readers who may have their own soft spot for animals.” — via Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Reviews:

“This Dutch import offers a glimpse of a far-off land and a gentle lesson on caring for animals. . . . Those children who do connect with Dumon Tak’s sweet, quiet tale are likely to find it will resonate deeply.”
KIrkus Reviews

“Mikis’ love for Tsaki is both palpable and understandable, and animal-loving kids will particularly enjoy this, as will those who appreciate getting a glimpse into the lives of kids in other places.” — The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Mikis makes friends with his grandpa’s donkey, Tsaki, becoming the animal’s advocate. Fortunately, the old man is kind as well as gruff; though “Mikis had to give his grandpa donkey lessons,” he eventually builds Tsaki an airier stable with Mikis’s help. In this affecting picture of a close-knit Greek community, loosely drawn illustrations capture windswept landscapes, village life, and human character with equal aplomb.” — Horn Book Guide Starred Review

Explore:

What drew you to Mikis and the Donkey? Why were you interested in translating it?” These questions and a few more are answered by translator Laura Watkinson in “Five (or Fifteen) Questions with Laura Watkinson” on the Eerdlings blog.

2015 Batchelder Honor Winner Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

At the end of Sjlammbams Sahara stood a house. We weren’t the first to live there or the first to give the house a name. We had no idea yet about Nienevee from Outside the Walls and Charley Bottletop. But if it hadn’t been so windy that day, we surely would have been able to hear them signaling to each other, drumming with their bones deep under the ground.

Nine Open Arms

Author Benny Lindelauf fundamentally expands the understanding and appreciation of Second World War fiction. In Tortot, The Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart, Lindelauf uses the mechanisms and selfish cruelties of World War to tell an illustrated war fable that works both as suspenseful historical fiction and also as absurdist commentary on the egos, motivations, and resulting crimes of war mongering world leaders. Tortot is a hard-hearted field cook who cooks food that is so delicious that he is able to bounce from one army to the next always staying on the winning side. He is abruptly forced to confront his opportunistic, war-soaked career when a boy soldier who has lost both his legs shows up in a rations shipment pickle barrel and shows the cunning Tortot both a way home and a way to stop the cycle of endless war. A full review is available here.

Written before Tortot, Nine Open Arms resets expectations again, using magical realism to tell one story that is in all senses multiple, part coming of age story, part family story, part ghost story, and part world teetering on the edge of war story.

Nine members of a motherless family move into the abandoned house at the end of a dirt road called Sjlammmbams Sahara, maybe named after the wet coal dust called sjlamm in Limburgish, the cheaper alternative to coal, but no one actually knew. As if at the end of the world and not just the end of that long winding road, the house stood defiantly with its back to them and the rest of the town.

Fing is the oldest daughter of seven siblings, with four older brothers who were mostly interchangeable, and her two younger sisters Muulke and Jess. They are looked after by their father, a kind but rudderless man who moves from job to job, and their maternal grandmother, Oma Mei, who is stern, no nonsense, but ultimately long-suffering with one wild eye that spins every time she gets upset. Fing and her sisters have learned to watch Oma Mei’s eye closely as a barometer for storms in their lives. Like now.

The father’s motto is “First believe, then see,” a refrain he uses for every change in the wind that he follows. He moves his children from house to apartment, from street to street, up and down through their town. And now they have wheeled their belongings on a hot, windy day to the end of their world with the German border just up and through the fields beyond. Up and past the graveyard, which remains in view from their new home.

Muulke, their middle sister, has a dramatic streak, looking for “traces of tragical tragedies” wherever they move. She insists that gruesome murders and horrible events have happened in each place. And when the sisters’ three pairs of outstretched arms match the length of their largest room, Muulke believes this coincidence based on their nine family members, proves her hunch about tragic stories of long gone inhabitants is true.

Little do Fing, Muulke and Jess know that there was indeed a strange story about their newly christened house Nine Open Arms, an old story from 1863 when a group of nomadic travelers from Germany set up camp in the woods and incur the wrath of the townspeople. A disgruntled furniture maker sends his son, Charley Bottletop, to teach the travelers a lesson and make them go away. That afternoon long ago, Charley has a fateful meeting with a young traveler called Nienevee from Outside the Walls. Their meeting sets in motion events that Fing, Muulke, and Jess begin to discover when Muulke finds a secret third room in Nine Open Arms’ basement, and the tragical tragedy involving Nine Open Arms, Nienevee from Outside the Walls, and Charley Bottletop unfolds.

Stunning end papers by Dasha Tolstikova bittersweetly evoking the grand gestures and tragical tragedy that begins in 1863 between Nienevee from Outside the Walls, a traveler and unwelcome in the town, and the furniture maker’s son, Charley Bottletop.

“A ghost story, a fantasy, a historical novel, and literary fiction all wrapped into one, this highly awarded novel for young readers begins with the Boon family’s move to an isolated, dilapidated house. Is it the site of a haunting tragedy, as one of the daughters believes, or an end to all their worries, as their father hopes? The novel’s gripping language, enriched by Yiddish, German, and Dutch dialect, plunges the reader into the world of a large, colorful, motherless family.” — via Enchanted Lion Books

The Boon family story continues in the sequel Fing’s War, set in 1938 with the Second World War beginning in earnest, and now 14 year-old Fing learning hard lessons about dashed dreams, sacrifices, and relationships in the family and in town complicated by nationality, alliances, and religion. Highly recommended for sophisticated readers ages 12 and up. Lindelauf’s books can also be considered literary fiction that adults would also truly enjoy.

Reviews:

“Every element of the tale has a purpose, and in the end, the multiple layers of past and present separate and come together in surprising, often discomfiting twists and turns. . . A challenging and entirely unique Dutch import.” — Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

“Lindelauf’s masterful rendering of fraught yet loving sisterly ties, snappy dialogue, graveyard mysteries, and “traces of a tragical tragedy” from generations past combine to humorous and poignant effect in this gripping tale of eclectic families and inveterate wanderers in search of a welcoming home.” — Publishers Weekly Starred Review

All Book Details

Mister Orange
Written by Truus Matti
Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
ISBN: 978-1-59270-123-0
Published by Enchanted Lion Books, 2013
Originally published as Mister Orange by Uitgeverij Leopold, 2011
Recommended for ages 8 and up

You can purchase the book here.

The War Within These Walls
Written by Aline Sax
Illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki
Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
ISBN: 9789058387363
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013
Originally published in Dutch as De kleuren van het getto by De Eenhoorn, 2011
Recommended for ages 14 and up

You can purchase the book here.

Mikis and the Donkey
Written by Bibi Dumon Tak
Illustrated by Philip Hopman
Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
ISBN: 978-0-8028-5430-8
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014
Originally published in Dutch as  Mikis de ezeljongen by Querido, 2011
Recommended for ages 8 and up

You can purchase the book here.

Nine Open Arms
Written by Benny Lindelauf
Translated from the Dutch by John Nieuwenhuizen
ISBN: 978-1-59270-146-9
Published by Enchanted Lion Books, 2014
Originally published Negen Open Armen, 2004
Recommended for ages 12 and up

You can purchase the book here.

Book purchases made via our affiliate link may earn GLLI a small commission at no cost to you.

Benny Lindelauf (b. 1964) made his debut as a children’s writer in 1998. He has grown to become one of the most original voices in the Dutch-speaking countries. With his award-winning books Negen open armen (published in English as ‘Nine Open Arms’, 2004) and its companion, Fing’s War (2010), he wrote his way into a lofty position in the pantheon of children’s literature. Tortot (2016) revealed a new side of Lindelauf’s talent: not psychological YA prose, but magic realism, a path he continues along in Whole Stories for a Half Soldier (2020) – via Nederlands Letterenfonds.
Truus Matti (b. 1961) has worked as an editor and production coordinator at a number of different publishing houses. As she wanted to develop her own stories, she applied to study at the Rietveld Academy, where she created stories in the form of films and animation. Over time, her focus shifted to writing. Vertrektijd (Departure Time, 2007) is her debut as a novelist.
Aline Sax (b. 1984) wrote her first book when she was fifteen, about two German child soldiers at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. Many years and a PhD in history later, Sax is well-known in Flanders as a historical novelist. With her in-depth research and sober language, she brings the past to life like no other.
Bibi Dumon Tak (b. 1964) is the author of Soldier Bear and Mikis and the Donkey (both Eerdmans), both of which won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. In 2018 Bibi received the Theo Thijssen Prize, the highest honor for children’s authors in the Netherlands. She has previously collaborated with Annemarie van Haeringen on Scout’s Heaven (Eerdmans).
Laura Watkinson translates from Dutch, Italian and German into English. She studied medieval and modern languages at St Anne’s College, Oxford University, followed by a Master of Studies in European literature. She went on to teach in various locations, including the universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Milan, before returning to university to take a Masters in English and applied linguistics at RCEAL and Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. Watkinson has been a full-time literary translator since 2003. Follow Laura on Twitter @Laura_Wat.

John Nieuwenhuizen is an Australia-based, award-winning translator of Dutch and Flemish literature. He has received high praise and recognition as the translator of books such as Falling by Anne Provoost; The Baboon King by Anton Quintana, for which he won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for the best children’s book in translation (USA); and The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, for which he was shortlisted for the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation (UK).

Kim Tyo-Dickerson, seen here visiting the Kinderboekenmuseum/Children’s Book Museum in The Hague, is the Upper School Librarian and Head of Libraries at the International School of Amsterdam. Kim has a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is one of the founding members of the grassroots professional learning project International Teacher Librarians Lead (inTLlead) and is committed to world libraries, literatures, and literacies. Originally from United States, she has lived on three continents and worked in international school libraries for 16 years in both Europe and Africa. Kim’s languages include English, German, and Dutch. You can follow her on Twitter @kimtyodickerson.

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