Ali Mitgutsch was born in Munich in 1935 and was christened "Alfons" in the Bavarian dialect. However, when he returned home from playing torn and dirty, his mother used to say he looked like Ali Baba, and so the name stuck. Throughout his life, the "father of the hidden object books" has retained his childhood imagination, which is one reason why his works have a long-term appeal to the very young.
Life and work of Ali Mitgutsch
A difficult childhood
During the war Ali Mitgutsch's family had to leave Munich; for most of the time the boy went to a village school in the Allgäu. Here he was harassed and beaten with the teacher's approval. No wonder he withdrew into a fantasy world and kept to imaginary friends with whom he had imaginary adventures. The return to Munich was also a disappointment: the city was destroyed, the children were hard-boiled guys, the older brother was liked in Russia.
One ray of hope in Ali Mitgutsch's youth was the ride on the Ferris Wheel, when there were public festivals again: the view from above of countless everyday scenes and a lively teeming crowd would never let the boy go. As he grew older, he began to experience real adventures - he went on a journey. For almost two decades, he was on the road for about three months every year to get to know foreign countries and people. The souvenirs hang in his studio as a cheerful jumble.
After school, Ali Mitgutsch trained as a lithographer before attending the Graphic Academy in Munich. He was working as a freelance graphic artist when, in the 1960s, the child psychologist Kurt Seelmann said that he wanted a picture book that children could look at over and over again. Mitgutsch began drawing and filled large areas with many small everyday scenes. The publication of "Rundherum in meiner Stadt" in 1968 marked the birth of the Wimmel books.
Really a lot of wind from the front? Never mind
There were quite a number of people who would have a problem with the hidden object books. The psychologists complained that they were far too complex for small children. They shouldn't show the ideal world, sociologists said. The booksellers warned that the volumes were too large for the book trade and wouldn't sell.
Ali Mitgutsch did not allow himself to be put off: he designed more and more books (around 70 in all), which he regarded as windows into a world of his own. The viewer always sees the many scenes from above at an angle, and all scenes, front and back, are the same size. His audience thanks him: the new genre of picture books is rapidly becoming very popular; in Germany alone, over five million copies are sold. Children sink for a long time in contemplation of the pictures, grateful parents buy every new volume. In the meantime, the opinion of adult experts has also changed: The author has received many awards and carries the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The young spirit
Ali Mitgutsch said that he can remember exactly what he found exciting, interesting or scary as a child. Creepy, for example, were the stories of saints, which his mother told imaginatively and fervently. Exciting and interesting, on the other hand, were many everyday situations that one could observe: How would they end? This is a question all children who look at his hidden object books can ask themselves. The illustrator himself points out that it is also possible to continue spinning the depicted situations together.
Some of the protagonists can be seen in several books, for example the grumbling old man or (what a taboo break that delights the children!) the peeing boy. Nevertheless, the author of the children's book never leaves home without a pad and pencil so that he can take notes and sketches if necessary. After all, the world never stops providing new ideas.