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Christine Nöstlinger, Clear-Eyed Children’s Book Author, Dies at 81

By July 25, 2018No Comments

Source : The New York Times  –   Helen T. Verongos

It is a rare children’s book author who is singled out as a “reliably bad child-rearing influence,” but for the Austrian writer Christine Nöstlinger the words were intended as a high compliment.

They came, somewhat tongue in cheek, in the citation for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which compared her irreverent “bad influence” to that of Lindgren, the Swedish author and political activist. Ms. Nöstlinger shared the initial Lindgren prize with Maurice Sendak in 2003.

Her work is “characterized by disrespectful humor, clear-sighted solemnity and inconspicuous warmth,” the citation said. “She is a staunch supporter of children and those living on the margin of society.”

Ms. Nöstlinger died on June 28 at 81 after a brief unspecified illness, her publisher, Residenz Verlag, said on its website.

Ms. Nöstlinger wrote more than 100 books, not all for children, and her work has been translated into 30 languages.

 She studied art, and that was what first attracted her to publishing. “I wanted to illustrate a children’s book,” she once wrote. “But in order for anyone to let me, I had to write one myself.” So she produced her first book, “Fiery Red Friederike” (1970), about a little girl with “peculiar hair.”

“A few streaks were red as tomatoes, the bangs were the color of carrots and most of her hair was raspberry red,” she wrote of her heroine.

The book was “immediately praised for its fresh themes and unsentimental tone,” Sabine Fuchs, an Austrian scholar, wrote in “Beyond Babar: The European Tradition in Children’s Literature.” She called Ms. Nöstlinger’s work “closely observed, linguistically playful and wonderfully imaginative.”

Ms. Nöstlinger’s books, she added, “feature mothers struggling to emancipate themselves, fathers adjusting to their new roles, young people protesting against authority, and articulate and persuasive children.”

Writing about underrated children’s classics in The Guardian in 2015, Daniel Hahn, author of the “Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,” called Ms. Nöstlinger “one of the best children’s writers of our time.”

His list of the unsung included Ms. Nöstlinger’s fantasy “Conrad,” published in the United States in 1977 as “Konrad” and elsewhere as “The Factory Made Boy.” The story — “a sort of Frankenstein birth fantasy in reverse,” The New York Times Book Review said — tells of a factory-made 7-year-old who arrives, sealed in a large can, on a woman’s doorstep. He turns out to be the perfect child.

He “goes to bed even when he is not tired, does not want to eat chocolate right before going to sleep and asks for work,” Ms. Fuchs writes. His mother falls in love with him, then the factory says that there has been a mistake and wants to reclaim him.

Mr. Hahn wrote in the “Oxford Companion” that “Nöstlinger’s books, whether based in fantasy or reality, always have a sense of social justice, dealing with issues such as discrimination and racism.”

Among her other books translated into English were “Fly Away Home” (1975), about a child’s experiences in 1945 Austria, which was adapted for film in Austria in 2016; “Cucumber King” (1985), which has been called a satire of authoritarian fathers; and “Bonsai” (1998).

Christine Nöstlinger was born in Vienna on Oct. 13, 1936, to a kindergarten teacher and a watchmaker. She was the mother of two daughters, Christiane Nöstlinger and Barbara Waldschütz. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Among her many laurels, Ms. Nöstlinger received the 1984 Hans Christian Andersen Award for a body of work that, its citation said, has made “an important, lasting contribution to children’s literature.” Among the criteria is “the ability to see things from a child’s point of view.”

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