Tonke Dragt

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Tonke Dragt
Tonke Dragt (1963)
Tonke Dragt (1963)
BornAntonia Johanna Willemina Dragt
(1930-11-12) 12 November 1930 (age 88)
Batavia, Dutch East Indies (Present day Jakarta, Indonesia)
Alma materRoyal Academy of Art,
The Hague
GenreChildren's literature
Notable works"De zevensprong",
"De brief voor de koning"
("The Letter for the King")
Notable awardsVarious


Antonia "Tonke" Johanna Willemina Dragt (born 12 November 1930) is a Dutch writer and illustrator of children's literature. Her book De brief voor de Koning was chosen by CPNB as the best Dutch youth book of the latter half of the twentieth century.


Antonia Johanna Willemina Dragt, better known as Tonke Dragt, was born in 1930 in Batavia on the Dutch East Indies (currently Jakarta in Indonesia). She spent the largest part of her youth there, including three years in a Japanese prisoner's camp during the Second World War between 1942 and 1945. She came to the Netherlands with her family after the war. She studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague and worked afterwards as a drawing teacher in secondary schools, living in The Hague.[1]

Tonke Dragt first published stories in the magazine Kris Kras, and her first book appeared in 1961.[2] She became one of the best known Dutch youth authors in 1962 with her second book, De brief voor de koning ("The Letter for the King"), which won the Gold Pen award (Gouden Griffel) for the best Dutch youth book of the year. She continued to produce at a high rhythm during the 1960s, but massively reduced the output of new work in the next decades, although collections of older short stories filled up many of the gaps.[3]

Apart from writing and illustrating her own books, Tonke Dragt also made illustrations for some other books, including work by Paul Biegel, E. Nesbit, Rosemary Sutcliff, and the novel Elidor by Alan Garner.[4]

The work of Tonke Dragt has been translated into many languages, including German, English, Afrikaans, Czech, Spanish, Danish and Indonesian.

Style and themes[edit]

Many of the books and stories by Tonke Dragt are situated in a fantasy or science fiction environment, although usually closely related to or intertwined with the real world.[2] De brief voor de koning, Geheimen van het Wilde Woud, and a few short stories, are set in a fictional medieval world. Torenhoog en mijlenbreed, Ogen van tijgers, and related stories, are near-future science fiction stories, where the action happens on Venus and Earth. De torens van februari alternates between our world and a parallel world. De zevensprong is most firmly set in a realistic setting.

Dragt uses elements of legends and fables, most clearly in Verhalen van de tweelingbroers. Her stories are mainly focused on one or a few male protagonists, often teenagers. They go on a personal quest, a search that may be externalized in an item like the letter in De brief voor de koning, but which results in a discovery of their own persona.[2] Dragt admitted that she used male characters as it was more logical in her historic settings, for example the Middle Ages in De brief voor de koning, in which females played a smaller role. On top of that, she called the traditional "girl books" of her time "slow", preferring to read books aimed at boys.[5]

Tonke Dragt's style and themes were considered to be unique in Dutch children's literature as up to the 1960s, most Dutch children's literature was set in a day-to-day realistic setting, involving young children. In the 1960s, Dragt, alongside Thea Beckman started pioneering children's literature with their thick books involving protagonists in historical fantasy and science fiction settings.[6]

Dragt long admired British children's literature for its fantasy tradition, stating that Dutch literature demanded realism.[7] In a 2019 interview, Dragt therefore recalled her first call with Miep Diekmann, who worked as an editor at Leopold at the time and was not entirely convinced by the first Verhalen van de tweelingbroers manuscript, stating that fables were out of fashion. Diekmann was also concerned with the thickness of the book, totalling over 350 pages, which was unusual for a children's book at the time. However, she was charmed by the illustrations and storytelling ability, calling Dragt "talented".[8]

Dragt's first books and their illustrations were mainly inspired by her childhood in Batavia and the Middle Ages.[9] She encorparated, to Dutch people exotic, backdrops in her story, with Geheimen van het Wilde Woud and De brief voor de koning partially being set in rainforests and on mountains, knights with chain mails.[10] In Verhalen van de tweelingbroers, the main setting of the story, the city Bainoe, strongly resemblances Batavia in illustrations, while the illustrated characters in the story wear Italian Renaissance fashion[11], with most notably main characters Jiacomo and Laurenzo wearing a giornea and a cap.

Success of The Letter for the King[edit]

The book The Letter for the King (Dutch: De brief voor de Koning) has sold over 1 million copies so far.[12] The book has been translated many times, and reached its 22nd printing in Dutch in 2007.[13]

In 2007, it premiered as a musical theater piece. This was the second theater production based on the works of Tonke Dragt, after an adaptation of De Zevensprong.[13]

In 2015 a sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood, was translated into English.

The film based on the book, starring Derek de Lint was released in the summer of 2008.[14]


Title Year Translations Remarks
Verhalen van de tweelingbroers 1961 German, Spanish Renamed to De goudsmit en de meesterdief in 15h edition in 2018[15]
De brief voor de koning 1962 Catalan, Danish, German, English, Estonian, French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Czech, Hungarian
De blauwe boekanier 1964 German Offered for free as the yearly Kinderboekenweekgeschenk
Geheimen van het Wilde Woud 1965 Danish, German, Japanese, Spanish, English, Hungarian Sequel to De brief voor de koning
De zevensprong 1966 Danish, German, Spanish Later turned into a TV series
De trapeze 1967 Collection of stories
De blauwe maan 1968 A series of 8 short books
Torenhoog en mijlenbreed 1969 German, Czech, Afrikaans
De torens van februari 1973 English, Spanish, German, Danish
Water is gevaarlijk 1977 Collection of stories
Het gevaarlijke venster en andere verhalen 1979 German, Spanish Collection of stories
Ogen van tijgers 1982 German Sequel to Torenhoog en mijlenbreed
Het geheim van de klokkenmaker, of De tijd zal het leren, of De tijd zal je leren 1989 German, Spanish
Aan de andere kant van de deur 1992 German Sequel to Het geheim van de klokkenmaker: an announced third part hasn't been published thus far.
De robot van de rommelmarkt / Route Z 2001 German, Slovenian Two stories, one a prequel to Torenhoog en mijlenbreed
De blauwe maansteen 2005 German, Spanish
Het dansende licht 2005 Collection of stories
Wat niemand weet 2007 Illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen
Dichtbij ver van hier 2009
Als de sterren zingen 2017


  • 1963: Kinderboek van het Jaar (Children's book of the Year, the predecessor of the Gouden Griffel) for De brief voor de koning[2]
  • 1971: Nienke van Hichtum-prijs for Torenhoog en mijlenbreed[16]
  • 1976: Staatsprijs voor kinder- en jeugdliteratuur (the highest award in the Dutch language area for a youth author, can be won only once per author)[16]
  • 1995: Buxtehude Bull, an Award for youth literature given by the city of Buxtehude, for the German translation of De torens van Februari[17]
  • 2004: Griffel der Griffels for De brief voor de koning (award for the best Dutch children's book of the past fifty years)[16]
  • 2005: Victorine Hefting Award, an award for women in The Hague who have contributed to the cultural emancipation of women[16]


  1. ^ Van Gool, Jef (1977). De wereld van Tonke Dragt. Refleks. Visies op jeugdliteratuur (in Dutch). Lier, Belgium: Van In. p. 75. ISBN 90-306-0604-5.
  2. ^ a b c d "Tonke Dragt" (in Dutch). Leopold. Retrieved 16 October 2010.
  3. ^ Van Gool, Jef (1977). Refleks. p. 76.
  4. ^ Van Gool, Jef (1977). Refleks. p. 77.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "De ambassade van Tonke Dragt" (in Dutch). De Standaard. 10 November 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
  13. ^ a b Sonja De Jong (25 September 2007). "Tonke overtuigd: ridders zingen toch" (in Dutch). Het Parool. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
  14. ^ "Derek de Lint in De brief voor de koning" (in Dutch). Trouw. 17 January 2008. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c d "Victorine Hefting-prijs 2005 voor Tonke Dragt" (in Dutch). The Hague. 13 May 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
  17. ^ "Buxtehuder Bulle für "Lagune der Galeeren"" (in German). Abendblatt. 30 September 2005. Retrieved 14 February 2008.

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