Death of Wolf Erlbruch, German master of children’s literature

Wolf Erlbruch, in Paris, on February 10, 2021.

Author and illustrator of children’s books, the German Wolf Erlbruch died in Wuppertal (North Rhine-Westphalia), his hometown, on December 11, at the age of 74, “going to see the night », as he said with the radical poetry that made him approach everything without filter, death, the meaning of life or the notion of justice.

From a fantasy and a visual invention that made his signature, his albums, from the one that imposed him internationally, Of the little mole who wanted to know who had done it on his head (translated in France by Milan, in 1993), via Housework at Madame K (Milan, 1995), The Big Question (ed. Being, 2003) or The Duck, Death and the Tulip (La Joie de lire, 2007), ensured his international consecration: Erlbruch was both the winner of the Hans-Christian-Andersen prize (2006) and the Astrid-Lindgren commemorative prize (2017), held to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for Children’s Literature.

After studying graphic design in Essen, at the Folkwangschule, Wolf Erlbruch worked in 1974 for magazines (the German weekly Sternthen the American monthlies Esquire et Playboy), advertising, finally publishing. For his first album, he illustrated a text by the missionary James Aggrey (1875-1927), The Eagle That Would Not Fly, which appeared in Germany in 1985 (untranslated); but it is with the second, on a text by Werner Holzwarth, Of the little mole who wanted to know who had done it on his head, that it met with great success. Thereafter, this one will not be denied any more.

Reader Intelligence Bonus

Professor at the Fachhochschule in Düsseldorf (1990-1997), Wolf Erlbruch combines techniques with suffocating virtuosity – pencils, pastels, collages and watercolors – while integrating, familiar with the pictorial world of the surrealists, the strangeness of Max Ernst, d ‘Otto Dix or Max Beckmann in his images for young people.

Holder of the chair of illustration at the Bergische Universität Gesamthochschule in Wuppertal, he taught there for a dozen years (1997-2009) before retiring after two years in Essen where it all began (2011).

Over the albums where the bears carve out the lion’s share, bearers of the narration (Me, daddy bear? [Milan, 1993], A bear on a swing [Milan, 1999], A paradise for Little Bear [Milan, 2003], The Miracle of the Bears [2006], The Bear Who Wasn’t There [La Joie de lire, 2015]), Wolf Erbruch is not afraid to tackle the most serious themes. Because he does not take the child for less sensitive or reflective than the adult. And in fact the books that win prizes at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair – twice, in 1999 and 2004 – like the French jury for the Sorcières prizes, again twice (1994 and 2005), underline this audacity and this prize to the intelligence of the reader.

dreamlike atmospheres

Multiplying borrowings from contemporary authors (Valérie Dayre for a terrifying story of devouring, The Weeping OgressMilan, 1996) or classics like Goethe witch kitchenThe Joy of Reading, 1998), Elbruch also signs formidable invitations alone (Let’s go see the night!, The Joy of Reading, 2000) as suffocating challenges (Leonardo where one learns to tame his fears, ed. Being, 2002, or The Duck, Death and the Tulip, La Joie de lire, 2007, where we become aware of death), playing with dreamlike atmospheres subtly shifted from reality to solve these mysteries that adults refuse to face.

For the publisher Christian Bruel, he signs his masterpiece, The Big Question (éd. Etre, 2003), which a mention of the Pitchou price boldly distinguishes to be given to read to children from 3 years old! Author of a stimulating essay, The political adventure of the children’s book (La Fabrique editions, 384 pages, 18 euros), Christian Bruel remembers a mischievous and demanding man, capable from the first day of asking his future students to sing in turn and comment: “You have been vulnerable and supportive, that’s what I expect of you. »

If he remembers a man capable of playing the bagpipes during a jury for ” clear the air “Christian Bruel also evokes a hard worker, “trying to see”as he said out of modesty, “carving cheerfully with the blows of a cutter in his images, not seeking to disappear behind analog perfection but attentive to the echo of just a gesture”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *