One of the most inspiring books I have read so far this year is a 32-page volume titled “The Sign Cleaner” (Der Schilderputzer), written by German author Monika Feth and illustrated by Antoni Boratynski.
I came across it today, when my 8-year-old son brought it home from school as a reading assignment.
Here is a pretty accurate summary I found at the International Children’s Digital Library:
Feth, Monika (text)
Boratynski, Antoni (illus.)
Der Schilderputzer (The sign cleaner)
Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1995.  p.
Work – Happiness – Education – Fame
Working in streets named Bach, Beethoven, Brecht or Kästner has unanticipated consequences for a street cleaner. He suddenly realizes that he knows nothing about the people whose names he is cleaning daily. At first he goes to concerts to hear their music, then to the public library to read their books. Soon he is singing and reciting while he works. An audience gathers around him and he is given a show on television. To make a long story short: the street sign cleaner turns down a post at the university and continues to his own work, holding lectures for his own and his listeners’ pleasure.
And here, the anonymous reviewer felt he also had to gift us with a couple of critical remarks (my italics):
Antony Boratyniski gives his protagonists realistic expressions but rather dream-like appearance, their faces are stereotypic but also lively. Two dimensional colors and distorted proportion, often out of perspective, correspond in a formal way to the substance of this
sympathetic, but unfortunately hardly imaginable story about a happy person.
When the reviewer says this is a “hardly imaginable story about a happy person”, I can’t help but feel sad to live in a world where people find it hard to believe that
This is a children’s book. Children read books like this to learn how the world around them works. When author Monika Feth wrote the book, I think (well, at least I hope) that she was trying to teach children that people can in fact be happy while dedicating a lot of their time to such noble and pleasurable interests without having to
And this is where it becomes clear why this book pleased me so much.
I have had it with all the pressure to dedicate my time and energy to looking for ways of inching ahead in the petty and senseless dispute to seem productive, to engage in ever sillier contests of personal/academic self-advertising in order to find favor with administrators.
I have had it with people overrating the virtues of entrepreneurship, something that is becoming annoyingly common in universities not only in the certain underveloped Latin-American country where I live and teach, but all over the world.
Wikipedia says: “Entrepreneurs assemble resources including innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods.”
But there are important goods that are not economic in nature. Entrepreneurship fanatics seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word “intangible”.
More than one person became happier — and the world became a better place — when the sign cleaner sought to pursue his intellectual goals with no material reward in mind, and then decided to share freely the knowledge and the inspiration he had acquired in the process.
So I beg you: never buy your child a book about entrepreneurship. Buy this book instead.