Timi Donner im Reich der Kentauren (Timi and the Centaurs)
Verlag Nagel & Kimche, 2000, 260 pp.
To say that Timi Donner is vertically challenged would be an understatement. He is thirteen years old and only 98 cm tall (having trained his limbs to stop growing), and he lives in one of the luggage lockers in a Swiss suburban railway station. There he is discovered by 13-year-old Katja, who goes to the station to play with a group of friends and chat with the station master, Walter, who keeps birds - one of which talks.
Timi and Katja have one thing in common: parent trouble. Katja's mother distinctly disapproves of her friends. As for Timi's parents, they are so absorbed in watching television that they take no interest in him at all, and don't even notice that he has run away from home. Then one day he disappears from the railway station itself, vanishing mysteriously through the back of his luggage locker into a land peopled by Centaurs and a tiny gnome-like race called the Dideldodels. He returns to tell Katja of his adventures in this strange land, and to recruit her and their friends to fight the centaurs' and the Dideldodels' enemy, a terrible monster called The GRU (Der grosse Unsichtbare, or, being translated, The Great Invisible Creature). It goes without saying that they are heroically successful and return safely to their homes, where Katja is reconciled with her mother and Timi comes to live with her.
This book by an eminent Swiss writer for children is an interesting mix of themes and elements - cowbells and mobile phones, legends old and new, echoes of C.S.Lewis, Roald Dahl and Thomas Mann. The descriptions of the landscapes, monsters and dangers are rich and full, yet the touch is notably light. There is word play and switches into Swiss-German dialect, which would be a challenge, but not an insuperable task, for the translator. Here is a most satisfying and attractive tale for the seven to ten year old age group at which it is aimed.