… IT'S THE PEOPLE WHO SHAPE THIS CITY

Not just any sweet story

schrijven_blog_bryna_hellman_c_abcWhilst reading her book, I had no idea who Bryna Hellmann is. Yes, I knew she has lived in Amsterdam for over 30 years now and walked this earth over 80. Yes, I had seen her present her book at Meet My Author; I even shortly spoke with her at the event. And yes, I knew she had written other books—but that’s it. It’s how I write reviews.

Now that my review of ‘In the Children’s Country’ has been published on American Book Center’s Blog, I felt it was time to find out more about Hellmann.

It turned out quite a joy, googling her this morning. Even better was her email, adding great detail to my story–and proving what I said from the start:

Hellmann is without a doubt one of those Amsterdammers shaping our city! She’s creative, productive and not shy of an opinion. A few bits and pieces:

  • 25 years ago Bryna Hellmann founded The New School for Information Services: the smallest accredited higher vocational education, or, University of Applied Sciences, for marketing communication in the Netherlands.As it turns out, it’s not the only school Hellmann founded. Eleven years before starting The New School, in 1977, she founded De Nieuwe School: a private, independent high school preparing you for your exams in just one year. Quite inspiring, Hellmann says: “I started late and retired aged 79, and had 30 glorious years.”

    About The New School, Hellmann explains: “The New School was the very first college in the country with a compulsory program of humanities, modeled on the first year of an American college. I founded the college also because I wanted to teach writing, and a school for pr and journalism was the initial idea. It morphed pretty quickly into what is called marketing communications: advertising, tv, film, the kids go in all directions.”
  • She’s got, in Hellmanns’ own words, “no faith in the power or willingness of the human race to save itself from extinction in the next 50-100 years”.
  • She used to be a spokesperson for the Democrats Abroad’s Dutch country group and wrote articles for e.g. Dutch newspaper Trouw (about 2008’s campaign rhetoric, Goebbels and Orwell) and OpEdNews, ‘a non-partisan, non-profit, bottom-up, progressive / liberal news, opinion, op-ed media site, activism tool and blog community’ (about Obama, President of Holland). Hellmann would not work for Democrats Abroad again, though:

    “I worked for Democrats Abroad when Obama ran, not since, and I’m not planning to work for Hillary, who will be as much of a disappointment for progressives like me as Obama has been. I’m a left of center Democrat, and DA is not my crowd. Anyway, American politics is shameful and the less said the better.”

Obviously, there’s also that not-so-little thing called ‘books’

  • Hellmann: “Since I retired 7 years ago, I’ve written the 3 novels I’m self-publishing now, 3 other stories that are probably too short to make books, a 280 page novel about 3 Jewish girls during the German occupation (an EBM book), a memoir for my grandchildren about my family and their grandfather’s (I’m Jewish, he was German), and a book about a trip to Cuba in 2012.”

If you had any doubt still, just how creative and productive Hellmann is: “I’m almost finished with a book about English life and literature which starts with the Stone Age and has been enormous fun to research and write. I call it ‘not a book but a magpie’s nest’. Oh, and Leslie has just started to do the illustrations for a picture book of my poem The Birds’ Wedding.”

The three novels Hellmann mentions, are all available online: The Time Between and This is Me, Becca, plus of course the book I read without knowing its creator: ‘In the Children’s Country’.


Review ‘In the Children’s Country’

schrijven_blog_20140321_bryna_children_countrySuch a sweet story! Danny and Rosie are fed up with staying at home whilst Mom and Dad go out for the evening. “They always go places where you can’t take children,” Danny complains. When the siblings decide to go to a country just for children, they end up exactly there…

In In the Children’s Country, there’s no hunger, no rain and… no television! The kids eat fruit growing on trees, drink water from a stream and spend their days playing outdoors. Still, there’s something odd about the place. What is it about the queen, living beyond the forest? How come everything around them is so perfect? Where do the children living here come from?

When something awful happens, Rosie has to do her utmost to try and solve it. Together with Milo, the eldest kid in the Country, Rosie shows that love is stronger than anything. They prove that when you work together, and just don’t give up, you can accomplish a whole lot.

Bryna Hellmann pushes the story forward with dialogue, which makes it perfect to read to children. On that note; it would have been nice if the chapters had been shorter. Much shorter. Just to give you a chance to catch your breath! The adventure revolves primarily around Milo and Rosie — the moment they’re off to save the situation, their story is the only one we follow.

Leslie Browne’s illustrations are worthy of a predominant place on the wall. I’d love to see more of her work in books to follow—or in a second edition, even.

The wrapping up of the plot feels a bit abrupt; so many things unfolding at once. Perhaps it’s more of a compliment to the world Hellmann’s created than anything else. Either way, I wouldn’t mind a sequel.


Photo: © American Book Center Text © Amsterdam Culture/Sheila Schenkel // The review was previously published on ABC.nl // This blog was updated March 27, 2014

1 Comment So Far

Bryna Hellmann says:

Sheila, thank you. I just saw your piece about me last night (5 August), alerted by a man, Joek Montfort, who has asked me to help him with the last stages of a conference about Scratch, a program to teach children to think creatively and logically (yes, both!) by creating game- and other sites on a computer. An international group of 260 people will meet on the 12th at the library and will conduct workshops until the 16th. If you’d like to see what they’re doing, come to the party, starting at 5 pm with a workshop about Scratch for little kids.


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