The Madelief book
In one of the first stories in the first Madelief book, Met de poppen gooien (Throwing Dolls), Madelief and Roos talk about the toilet. The rather prim Roos is embarrassed by the subject, whilst tomboy Madelief tries to kid her that she and her mother don’t even have a toilet. But then they ring Madelief’s doorbell and hear her mother call out ‘wait a moment!’, followed by the roar of a flushing loo. End of story.
It’s not easy to adequately describe Kuijer’s way of working, but this short story, told in distinctive, supremely simple sentences and everyday language is typical of his work. What he wants to tell children is clearly there on the paper, and yet it’s not there.
In Kuijer’s work there’s always something left to guess at, but it’s never so difficult that a child can’t manage to work it out. Kuijer is a master of little ironies. And for good reason. Because children, as he adamantly insisted all his life, are very good at thinking for themselves. They don’t need adults to do it for them.
His realistic stories deal with modern-day problems in a light, sometimes almost satirical manner that always sets the reader thinking. His characters are never holier-than-thou superheroes, but real people. They have problems, but are able to cope with them. Madelief herself, for example, is the child of a single mother. But she’s certainly not to be pitied! It’s difficult to pinpoint the best book in the series. Many people feel that the high point is the recently filmed Krassen in het tafelblad (Scratches on the Tabletop), in which Madelief turns out to understand the problems of her dead grandmother better than the adults in her family and, in a touching way, restores her grandfather’s lust for life.
But the funny Op je kop in de prullenbak (On Your Head in the Rubbish Bin), about Mr. Cowboy the teacher, who would rather be something else, and Grote mensen, daar kan je beter soep van koken (Big People, You’re Better Off Making Them into Soup), about a little boy who lives as a child squatter on an abandoned boat, are just as good. What is special is the way these books grow with the readers. You can read one of them every year. In spite of the absence of the mobile phone, these are books that could almost have been written today.
By Pjotr van Lenteren