• Dec 122012

Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories

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There’s something special about this book that we can’t quite put our finger on.

It could be the subject matter. As children’s books go, ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ is a poignant read — touching ever-so gently on one or two sombre themes. C.S.Lewis once said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” In that sense, this must be a rather good children’s story. Many of the reviews we’ve read have been of adults describing how it has moved them.

Or the ‘something special’ could be it’s uniqueness. We’d never heard of it until recently and yet it was selected by the Telegraph as one of the 100 books every child should read. Perhaps you’ve come across it, but it’s fair to say it’s not widely known. Translated from the German and (this edition) published after the author’s death, it feels like a well-kept secret.

Whatever the reason, ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ is quite magical and will stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It was written by Reinhardt Jung who died in 1999. The edition we’re reviewing (and linking to) was published by Egmont in 2010 and is beautifully illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

Bambert, the main character in the book, has some sort of growth difficulty. He’s a small man and his health troubles mean that he feels like “a shipwrecked mariner cast up on hostile shores on the far side of a dream”. Life is spent indoors, with just his imagination for company.

Up in his attic, Bambert holds “quiet conversations with the moon” every night. It is from these conversations that stories fly down to him – stories that he writes down in his ‘Book of Wishes’.

Over time, The Book of Wishes gradually fills up and, when there are only enough blank pages for one more story, Bambert decides to take action. He rips out the stories, attaches them to a series of small hot air balloons and sends each one out into the world so that each story can find its setting to suit the characters.

One by one, the stories come back to Bambert and he’s slowly able to fill his ‘Book of Missing Stories’ with tales from all over the world. All except the final blank story. How will the elusive eleventh tale return?

Part of the charm of ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ is the fact that each story that returns is reproduced in full. These stories are whimsical, strange and melancholy, with Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations reflecting their mood, in turn reflecting Bambert’s character.

It’s a profound book, without being overly sentimental. Big themes (life and death, the Holocaust) are dealt with, but not in a heavy way. Without wanting to limit its audience, we’d say it’s probably more suitable for use with thoughtful Upper KS2 classes and certainly on into KS3.

Here are some themes to help explore ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ in class…

    The book contains several stories within the main story. In fact, in ‘The Moving Light’, the child tells a brief story too (a story within a story within a story!). There are plenty of examples of this literary device. Can pupils think of any other books (or films / TV programmes) that use it? (e.g. The Princess Bride, Roald Dahl’s ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’, Itchy & Scratchy in The Simpsons). Experiment with embedded stories as shared writing.
    Bambert gets his story ideas late at night, talking to the moon. When do pupils’ ideas come to them? Do they like listening to certain types of music, being in a certain place or thinking in a certain way? Investigate children’s authors. Where do they get their inspiration?
    Think about the idea that stories have a home. Provide a story or an excerpt with no setting and basic characters. Where is the home that the story will find? Pupils could rewrite the story to reflect their answer. Make a class ‘Book of Wishes’ — you could actually send out stories attached to balloons to see where they end up!
    Discuss how Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories deals with some big themes. Why do pupils think Bambert writes the sorts of stories he does? Can they think of any other children’s stories that deal with big themes like death or the Holocaust? Should children’s books be about subjects like this? How should they portray sad or serious subjects?
    Look at the illustration style used by Emma Chichester Clark (watercolours, muted colours, limited palette). Why do you think she illustrates in this way? How do her illustrations reflect Bambert’s character? Get pupils to illustrate one of Bambert’s stories using a similar style.

If you’re looking for a light end-of-the-day read for your Tear 3 class, then ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ isn’t for you. But, if you’ve got an older class who are sensibly-minded, it’s well worth reading in class. There’s so much scope for discussion and creative writing here. The idea of stories finding their rightful home opens so much for creative work.

It may be that ‘Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories’ is quite famous and we’ve just missed it all this time. But, on the off-chance that it’s a hidden gem, we’re pleased we’ve done our bit to help you uncover this beautifully designed, enigmatic book.


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