A children’s classic relates a little girl’s first experiences at school in Germany.
Lehrer’s English-language translation of the “Nesthäkchen” novels by Holocaust victim Ury continues with this rendition of 1915’s Nesthäkchens Erstes Schuljahr, the second installment in the 10-volume series. The books follow its title character, the “Nesthäkchen,” or young family’s favorite girl, from infancy to old age. Annemarie Braun is the perky, blonde, youngest daughter of a prosperous Berlin doctor, and in this episode, she’s just turned 7 years old and attends school for the first time, taken there by her nanny after saying goodbye to her wistful parents. Her older brothers Hans and Klaus have been students for years, but this is Annemarie’s first time away from home for even short periods, and Ury evocatively captures the combination of excitement and dread that can fill a child’s mind when encountering a new environment for the first time. The activities of that new place are likewise portrayed with a fine mix of clarity and nostalgia: little Annemarie learns to make friends, to listen occasionally to her teacher, and to participate in various school activities, bubblingly recounting everything to her parents when she returns home. She meets girls named Margot Thielen and Hilde Rabe; she beguiles her teacher; and she learns her letters from a colorful primer. All of this is rendered with a carefully controlled drip of romanticism designed to appeal to both children and their reminiscing parents, and Lehrer’s clear, accessible translation is smoothly, appealingly colloquial. The footnotes he provides are minimal and helpful, but this touching section of the Nesthäkchen’s life story is simple enough to require very little textual elaboration. Readers should be transported not only to an earlier era’s childhood world, but to a glowingly idealized version of that realm, and they will likely be as enchanted by Annemarie as were Ury’s original readers.
A young family favorite charms her teacher in this affecting novel from a century ago.