I have been writing fiction since I was a child, but I only finished my first book at 32. Books really, since I was working on two stories at the same time. The light hearted Grumpy fairy tale and The Ministry of Solutions, for slightly older children. You can find English summaries of all my books below.
Moth and the magnet fishers
The week that Moth found a submarine, started of like any other... Moth is cleaning up her room with her mother. They live in a renovated warehouse in an unnamed city that is placed just outside our reality and time. Although almost everything is recognisable to readers, there is no internet, there are no mobile phones, the currency is the Bolwerd and everything is a little bit more industrial and rusty. Moth’s name is actually Butterfly. But only her mother still calls her that. She wanted a tidy, dainty child wearing frolic dresses. But Moth is not like that. Moth likes black clothes and the old messy city she grows up in. She doesn’t care for her mother’s obsession with good looks at all. As a sign of rebellion, she buys a magnet from her savings to fish in the old canal. Because her mother would hate all the rusty treasures she would bring home. And then Moth finds a small submarine. This submarine is the start of a big adventure, in which Moth meets the artistic acrobats from the Wharf, an enchanting place at the edge of the city where people actually live in submarines on land. In order to save this enormous former indoor shipyard full of art and acrobats, Moth needs to take on the powerful millionaire that owns half of the city. During the process Moth and her mother get to understand each other a little bit better.
The gorgeous, rusty illustrations are by Sophie Pluim.
The Ministry of Solutions
What if you could help other people anonymously? What if you could be part of an international society dedicated to helping others? A society which has been in existence for hundreds of years… My book, The Ministry of Solutions, came out in 2016 and has been reprinted 23 times since then. It sold over 55.000 copies, children seem to like it, as do parents, book sellers, teachers and reviewers. There are Turkish, Italian and Estonian translations. I never expected this book to become this popular, I worked on it for nine years, convinced it would never be published. It still makes me happy to see it in small piles in bookstores. The beautiful covers (and the lovely illustrations at the start of every chapter), made by the famous illustrator Mark Janssen, of course help to bring the books to the attention.
Below is a summary of the first book, followed by a quick summary of the second, third and fourth book. There will be a fifth one, early 2023.
The Ministry of Solutions
Nina is an eleven-year-old girl, adventurous and spontaneous. Her father, a postman, comes home one day with a strange letter he can’t deliver because the address is unknown. “The Ministry of Solutions,” it says. Nina needs to know what this mysterious letter is about, and ‘borrows’ it from her dad’s postbag. When she is alone in her room, she opens the letter. It was written by a nine-year-old boy called Ruben who asks for help because he is bullied by his classmate, Sophia. His neighbour always tells him about the Ministry of Solutions because she used to work there, but no one seems to know where it is or if it still exists. So Nina decides to help. She and her best friend Alfa, find Ruben who turns out to be a clever and lovely boy, and together they stand up to his bullies. Afterwards, the children meet Ruben’s neighbour Mrs. Vis, who is blind and 89 years old. She still lives amongst the archives of the Ministry of Solutions, and she tells them about her old job.
Several civil servants used to work on cases in their secret offices in The Hague. Like every Ministry of Solutions in the world, they were a member of the International Society of Solutions based in Geneva, Switzerland. Ministries must obey strict rules: they must help everyone (not just people they like); they cannot benefit from a case, and they must work in secrecy. However, the employees of the Dutch Ministry did not keep quiet about their achievements, and consequently the International Society shut them down in 1953. Only Mrs. Vis was allowed to reopen the Dutch branch. If Nina, Alfa, Ruben, and Mrs. Vis solve three problems - anonymously - they can re-establish the Ministry of Solutions. And so, they go to work.
The Ministry of Solutions and the missing Van Gogh
The children and Mrs. Vis are now allowed to re-establish the Dutch Ministry of Solutions. But when they plug in the computer that the International Society had send them, they get a message that they cannot start their work until they have solved an open case. They find out that there is indeed a case from 1953, which the Ministry has never been able to solve: the case of the murdered landlord and the missing Van Gogh.
A man called Hendrik Amer was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his landlord. He had a motive: after not being able to pay the rent in cash, he had given his landlord a drawing instead, not realising it was by Vincent van Gogh. Later that evening, the landlord was murdered – and the drawing has been missing ever since. The daughter of Hendrik Amer, his grandchildren and even their children, still suffer from the injustice. Thus, the Ministry of Solutions has to solve the murder and bring back the Van Gogh. They are being followed by the Silvermen, the long-standing enemy of the Ministry of Solutions.
The Ministry of Solutions and the house full of treasures
Nina, always looking for adventure, suspects she has stumbled upon a case for the Ministry when she hears Isaac, a new teacher at her school, mutter I don’t know where to start to himself. Nina and her best friend Alfa follow him to a cottage in the woods and watch how he seems to refrain from going in. When he does eventually enter, it is with great difficulty. The door is obviously jammed, and the house looks neglected.
The house in the woods belongs to Isaac's father, who is a hoarder. There are boxes up to the ceiling, furniture everywhere. It’s dark and damp. Somewhere, amid all the rubbish, there are treasures: Isaac's father used to collect fossils, gemstones, and antique books. Hence, Isaac wants to clean the house himself; he knows there are things that cannot be thrown out. Moreover, buried between the boxes are the notes on an important invention that could make cars more environmentally friendly. The children need to find this invention before the Silvermen do.
The Ministry of Solutions and the Silverboy
Nina is up in arms. Her best friend Alfa and the other members of the Ministry want to help this 14-year-old boy, Ralf. He seems to be stuck between his father and mother who are not on speaking terms during a messy divorce. But Nina knows Ralf, and she knows he is an aggressive bully. And yet, one of the rules of the Ministry of Solutions is that everyone deserves help, not just people you like. Therefore, Nina tries. They all do. They try to reconnect Ralf with his friends, they try to get school to understand his situation, they try to get his parents to talk to each other. But it’s hard. Only when his lovely aunt (with a purple mohawk) gets involved, something seems to change.
Nina is up in arms. Her best friend Alfa and the other members of the Ministry want to help this 14 year old boy, Ralf. He seems to be stuck between his father and mother who are not on speaking terms during a messy divorce. But Nina knows Ralf, and she knows he is an aggressive bully. And yet, one of the rules of the Ministry of Solutions is that everyone deserves help, not just people you like. So Nina tries. They all do. They try to reconnect Ralf to his friends, they try to get school to understand his situation, they try to get his parents to talk to each other. But its hard. Only when his lovely aunt (with a purple mohawk) gets involved, something seems to change.
Jippie! A grumpy fairy tale (Van Holkema and Warendorf, 2016, 4th reprint in 2018) is about the grumpy princess Super who lives in a country where everyone is extremely upbeat all the time. Everyone sings and rhymes and believes everything will always be fine. It drives the princess mad. So when she finds out there is this neighbouring country, Grump, on the other side of the wall, she jumps on her horse and rides towards it, looking for someone like her. Of course people in Grump are terribly depressed, they complain a lot and they are easily angered.
In the sequel, the Knights of Whack, the same grumpy princess is up against knights that tear everything down just because they want to. They don’t hurt people, but they demolish every building they come across and Super is the only one who can come up with an actual plan to stop them.
In Jippie! And the Underwater Pirates, princess Super helps her friend Max to find his father. He is a musician from Jippie (while Max' mother is from Grump) and he has been missing since before Max was born. Their quest leads them to the Underwater Pirates, who exaggerate everything and keep emphasizing how they successfully wrestle sharks.
The books are illustrated by the amazingly talented Annet Schaap.
Jippie has been doing well from the day it was published. It was reprinted several times and longlisted for the Kinderjury price.