Dutch Children’s Books for Bookwormish Beginners Posted by Jakob Gibbons on Jan 31, 2017 in Dutch Language, Literature
Have a healthy appetite for reading, but your language skills aren’t quite ready for the great works of Dutch literature yet? Try starting slow with children’s books.
Dutch literature has a rich and long-running tradition, despite the fact that it’s usually quite underappreciated in the English-speaking world.
But for beginner and intermediate Dutch learners, the pearls of the Dutch literary canon might just present linguistic challenges that are more discouraging than educational. That’s why, like so many other things in language learning, bookwormish Dutch learners should take a page out of the child language learning playbook and start small.
As soon as I started learning Dutch a few years ago, one of my first moves was to head to the nearest bookstore and check out what was in the children’s section. I knew that, once you’d learned a few basic rules and patterns, written Dutch had a lot in common with written English, and that the simple vocabulary used in children’s literature would mostly be drawn from the basic Germanic vocabulary it shares with English.
Reading feels so much safer and calmer than engaging in actual conversation for a beginner or intermediate learner, and having the time and space to carefully mull over challenging words and sentences helps you acquire new vocabulary that you can later apply to reading big kid books and even talking to adults.
If you want to build up a solid basic vocabulary to boost your Dutch language learning, consider heading to the children’s section of Amazon or your local bookstore in the Netherlands, and check out one of these titles to get started.
Jip en Janneke
Jip en Janneke is the classic children’s books series in the Netherlands. Written by Annie M. G. Schmidt, the stories are about two neighbors, the title Jip en Janneke, and the juvenile mischief they get up to will implicitly impart cultural knowledge from the Dutch childhood you missed out on.
There have been many books in the Jip en Janneke series over the years, but as they’re intended for small children learning to read, you’ll probably be ready to move onto something more complicated (and exciting) after one or two stories.
Anke de Vries is one of the most prolific writers of Dutch children’s books, with 79 books since 1972 and some of the most prestigious awards for children’s literature. Blauwe Plekken is one of her most famous stories. The book’s title means “bruises” in English, and the story uses the child character Judith to explore child abuse from a child’s perspective.
De Brief voor de Koning
De Brief voor de Koning (The Letter for the King) by Tonke Dragt is one of the most celebrated Dutch children’s books of all time. The story takes place between two fictional kingdoms, where the young squire Tiuri must take an adventure filled with knights and castles to deliver a letter to King Unauwen.
In addition to winning the Kinderboek van het Jaar award in 1963 shortly after it was published, De brief voor de koning also won the one-time Griffel der Griffels award that marked the fiftieth anniversary of Kinderboekenweek, effectively naming it the best Dutch children’s book of all time.
Jochem Myjer is a well-known comedian and cabaret performer from Leiden. In 2015 he added children’s book author to his list of artistic roles with the award-winning De Gorgels. A fantastical story about little creatures (gorgels) that protect children from sickness and monsters, the book is accompanied by imaginative illustrations that will help readers with unfamiliar words. Take a look at a reading by the author for a preview.
Bonus: Adult books in simple language
One of the most challenging aspects of reading children’s books for language learning is actually getting into the story. Sometimes Jip and Janneke’s adventures pestering Oma or adopting stray puppies just lacks the sense of suspense and drama we’re used to as adults, and it can be difficult to stay motivated and keep turning pages.
Thankfully, the Netherlands has several initiatives for laaggeletterde mensen, or people with reading difficulties, and many of them are just as useful for adult learners of the language who want to bury their nose in a good book. Leeslicht and Eenvoudig Communiceren are just two of the foundations that publish popular adult books and bestselling novels like Het Diner in simplified Dutch for those with difficulty reading or who are learning to read in Dutch.
Have you come across any good page-turners for beginning Dutch learners in your linguistic and literary adventures? Share your favorite titles and learning strategies in the comments!