Occasionally you just have to cry. A little. When a book is so wonderful it is all you can do.
The Flying Classroom by Erich Kästner, illustrated by Walter Trier and translated by Anthea Bell, is such a book. You can take my word for it.
If you know Erich Kästner you will know this is an old story, like Emil and the Detectives. First published in the 1930s it’s a marvellous piece of history, as written by someone who didn’t know it at the time, but who just wrote what was natural and normal. Finishing in the Kur-fürstendamm before the war, it necessitates historical somersaults for someone my age. You know, what it was, what it became, what happened after, and finally what it is now.
Set in a boys’ boarding school, it is far removed from the traditional British story set in a similar place. The Flying Classroom – a school Christmas play – is only incidental to the plot, which focusses on a group of five or six boys, who I think are around 13 years old. Both young and mature at the same time. They are lovely.
So is the school and their house master and a man outside school whom they befriend. Even the boring headmaster is lovely and the boys’ dry German teacher as well. But this is no cloying loveliness. It simply is.
There is the abandoned boy, the clever but poor boy, the large and hungry one, the little ‘cowardly’ one, and so on. They all get on and all look out for each other. They even ‘get on’ with their arch enemies from another school, for goodness’ sake!
If you want to use your hanky, I can thoroughly recommend The Flying Classroom. It is sheer old-fashioned Christmas goodwill to all mankind and love and friendship. Boys are allowed to admit to loving their mothers. This book moved me to a place that few books do.
Oh, just buy it!