"The classics offer a chance to submerge ourselves in another time, in another kind of language, which might sound somewhat disconcerting, but might also be exciting," Lentge says. "I think one should really consider whether instances like this can't be handled by some kind of annotation, a forward or an epilogue by a children's book expert who could put the work in its historical context," she continued.
But this isn't necessarily helpful, says Mesghena. "The notion of commentary is such an academic approach. If you're reading a bedtime story, it's completely absurd that you would read commentary," he argues.
Since Thienemann Verlag announced its revision last week, Mesghena says he has been inundated with more than a hundred angry emails.
"The lowest form of response is people saying, 'Who are you? You were not born here. You come here and want to change our society'," he says. "Then there are people who say I'm inserting race into a text that never had those intentions. But terminology is never neutral. It shows the structure of dominance. It's not about intentions. That was my first letter to the publisher, that this is racist. This is where racism starts," says Mesghena. "And if I didn't have the confidence before that parents would take the responsibility to properly explain these terms to their children, I have far less confidence now."
Yet both Mesghena and Klaus Willenberg of Thienemann Verlag say that not all of the responses they've received have been negative.
"We have also received some letters that approve of our decision, because now Preussler's wonderful stories can be read by children of today and tomorrow," says Willenberg, who plans to scour all the classic children's titles owned by the publishing house and rid them of discriminatory language.
"I think because of Germany's history, racism is such a loaded issue," Mesghena adds. "So just the fact that so many people are willing to talk about race so openly is a positive thing."