Title: Beterschap (translation: Get Well Soon)
Author: Toon Tellegen
There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Toon Tellegen. His bibliography is extensive, but has only recently been translated from Dutch into English. Tellegen is chiefly known for his children’s books about Squirrel, Ant, Hedgehog, Elephant and other animal characters. The short stories are published in several collections, most notably Er ging geen dag voorbij (or Not A Day Went By in English) and Misschien wisten zij wel alles (Perhaps They New Everything). A few of his stories have been published in an English translation – check the BookDepository website for copies!
His books are very well loved in the Netherlands and are characterised by bizarre story lines and philosophical themes. Although his prose is definitely different, he reminds me of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. He doesn’t play with words and language in the way they do, but his way of writing children’s literature reminds me of the way Lear and Carroll address children. It is open, understanding of children’s imagination, not in the least condescending and addressing important topics along the way. While his short story collections about animals are often seen as children’s literature, they are also a favourite amongst many adult readers.
Hey, thought the squirrel, what’s going on? He felt a stirring in his eyes. Tears? He wondered. Are those tears? He heaved a deep sigh, folded his tail behind his head and stared at the sky. I just won’t think any more, he thought. But he knew that that was very difficult.
In 2009 Tellegen’s publishing house Querido published eight booklets with several of his short stories – each covering a certain topic. They are:
– Maar niet uit het hart. Dierenverhalen over afscheid
English: Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind. Animal Stories About Loss
– Met hart en ziel. Dierenverhalen voor elk feest
English: With Heart and Soul. Animal Stories for Every Party
– Een hart onder de riem. Dierenverhalen vol troost
English: To Hearten Someone. Comforting Animal Stories
– Na aan het hart. Dierenverhalen vol vriendschap
English: To Be Near Someone’s Heart. Animal Stories About Friendship
– Beterschap. Dierenverhalen over ziekte en gezondheid
English: Get Well Soon. Animal Stories About Sickness and Health
– Welterusten. Dierenverhalen over slaap en sluimer
English: Good Night. Animal Stories About Sleep and Slumber
– Goede reis. Dierenverhalen over vertrek en aankomst
English: Bon Voyage. Animal Stories About Departure and Arrival
– Houd moed. Dierenverhalen over verdriet en eenzaamheid
English: Keep One’s Spirits. Animal Stories About Grief and Solitude
I think little booklets like these are ideal to discover new authors or genres. Just like the Penguin Little Black Classics!
The sun slipped slowly down the sky, the river burbled and in the distance the blackbird sang. The squirrel just looked and just listened and didn’t think about anything any more.
I love, love, loved this collection. For me it is nostalgia and love of words, of language, of childhood. Because I read this in Dutch, I can’t really give you any quotes to support my rating, but I can advise you to read a translated story and four poems on the DBNL website (Digital Library for Dutch Literature). I hope you like it!