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2004-04-19

Lauras Stern (Laura's Star) 

This is a little note for very old people who live with very young people. If you are in this group, there is a good chance you will know "Lauras Stern", or one of the translations into 26 other languages. Lauras Stern is a series of unusually good picture books for children by former graphics designer Klaus Baumgart (of course there are, by now, also movies, TV series, audio tapes, board games...). The center of the storyline is Laura, a small girl who one night finds a little star that has fallen from the sky and landed in front of her building. One of the star's tips has broken, so Laura glues it back on. The two play a bit, and eventually the star returns to the sky. But Laura knows now that she has a friend in the sky who is always there for her. This is her "secret", in which she finds comfort and strength when needed in later stories.

Klaus Baumgart's illustrations are warm and cosy without being too kitschy. Certainly they will have played a big role in making the book successful. As a non-religious person, I've been thinking about the symbolisms of the story. Obviously the friend in the sky who is always there for Laura is analogous to something that is told to children in primary school religious education. But there is no open reference to religion in the stories. In an audio tape version that I've had the pleasure of listening to, the longed for "friend who will truly understand me", who brings pleasure when present and sadness when he leaves, is rendered as an early adolescence dream of a boy-friend. Either way, the symbolism clearly includes the issues of longing and its non-material fulfillment, secret strength and support, force that lies within. It caters for the metaphysical needs of kids between two and seven, and simultaneously reminds the old people who read this books to the children of their own needs in that area. And it does so without the burden of an institutionalised faith - whenever I see a kids' book with the words "Jesus" or "God" on it, I discard it. So there is a very modern niche in the kids book market which Lauras Stern develops successfully - by blending our vague residual religiousness, existential fears, romantic interests and need for cosy family life. Does it also offer a glimpse at the future of religion?


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