Guus Kuijer

Portrait Guus Kuijer
© Hartwig Klappert

Guus Kuijer, the creator of literary figures like »Madelief« and »Polleke«, numbers among the Netherlands’ most outstanding children’s book authors. He was born in Amsterdam in 1942 and worked as a teacher before devoting himself full time to writing. In more than thirty novels, short stories, plays and screenplays he has set the standards for a literature that takes children seriously as readers. Having initially written for adults, Kuijer then published »Met de poppen gooien« (t: Bowling with the dolls) in 1975, his first »Madelief« children’s book. With the translation of the fourth volume, »Erzähl mir von Oma« (t: Tell me about grandma; OT: »Krassen in het tafelblad«, 1978), the beloved character of the little girl Madelief conquered the German children’s book market in 1981.

With an unmistakable blend of light humor and warmhearted irreverence, Guus Kuijer opens for the reader »a whole treasure chest of things that make the world go round« (»Süddeutsche Zeitung«). He brilliantly situates his novels between carefree episodes from the everyday and the tragedy of life, banishing horror with a smile. Crystal clear and profound, Kuijer depicts the evolution of his young protagonists in life while casting an amusing glance at the world of adults.

His best-known works are the award-winning »Polleke« novels. »Voor altijd samen, amen« (1999; t: We are forever together, amen) was the prelude to the five-part series. With a light touch and disarming humour, Kuijer portrays an adolescent girl caught between a chaotic patchwork family and her multicultural everyday life at school. Full of sympathy, he lets the eleven year-old Polleke cheekily display her turbulent experiences, which include her lovingly complicated relationship with her father Spiek who knocks about life as a drug dealer and disappoints her over and over again. With charming confidence Polleke approaches all sorts of emotional confusion and discovers how love and tenderness are often concealed behind anger and aggression. Kuijer’s »splendid figure of identification« – as the journal »Eselsohr« wrote – demonstrates to readers that children have their own opinions and can make their own decisions. »Voor altijd samen, amen« was awarded the German Youth Literature Prize in 2002.

With »Het boek van alle dingen« (2004; Eng. »The Book of Everything«, 2006), which was awarded the Lynx of the Year 2006, Guus Kuijer presents a challenging new novel for children: the nine year-old Thomas grows up in 1950s Amsterdam, the son of a violent father who is a religious bigot who oppresses the family. Upon meeting their neighbour, Frau Amersfoort, Thomas enters a new world of books and music, and slowly takes his first steps out of a grim, grey world. »To pack so much wisdom about love and faith, freedom and happiness into quotidian scenes and dialogue that also sometimes turns somersaults – that sums up Guus Kuijer’s great art«, deemed the »Neue Zürcher Zeitung«.

Guus Kuijer, whose literary work was awarded the Netherlands’ national prize for children’s and young adults’ literature (1979) only four years after the publication of his first children’s book, has received many international distinctions and was twice nominated for the ALMA Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

© international literature festival berlin