Fast stirbt er

Book Title Fast stirbt er (He Almost Dies)
Author(s) Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray
Illustrator(s) Laia Amela Albarran
Other Contributors Eric Richards
Cathleen Weigelt-Ferguson
Published by TPRS Books (view our statement on TPRS Books)
Publication date 2018
Genre Realistic fiction
#Ownvoices N/A
From the author/publisher’s website
Level 1

Total Word Count Unknown

Illustrations                    YES 
Glossary                          YES
Guiding Questions       NO  
Context                            NO  

Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
Protagonists: white
Other characters are represented with darker/black skin, but it is never mentioned in the text. 
Bavarian, Midwestern
American, German

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders
Male – bully and secondary character (Robert)
Female – protagonist (Rachel)

Teenagers – Protagonists, Adults, Seniors – Grandparents

Social classes
Middle Class
Sexual Orientation


Christian holiday

Family Structures
Heteroparental – most families mentioned
Single parent – Robert’s family

Body Type
Non-curvy, Athletic, “Large” / “Like a gorilla” – characterization of antagonist
From the author/publisher’s website 

Rachel Klein gets an opportunity to spend six months in Northern Bavaria. She meets many new people including two German boys, a nice one and a mean one. Can the mean one change? What will Rachel learn about herself and another culture?

To what extent do the illustrations present positive and thoughtful representations of identities?

The main characters are shown to be white.  The female characters are all non-curvy, while the male characters have more athletic builds.  On the cover, the antagonist, Fritz, appears to have a darker skin tone than the two protagonists, though this distinction is less clear in the black and white images that appear in the book.  A supporting character, Alexandria, is portrayed as having much darker skin, though skin tone never is referenced in the text itself.

We understand identities are complex and no single story represents the spectrum of identity-based experiences. Also, a text may address a stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization without relying on it.

Does any stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization affect any positive and thoughtful representations of identities in the text?

The antagonist of the story, Fritz, is characterized in the story as “the meanest and worst boy at school,” as well as being described as very large and tall (p.19). This characterization becomes problematic when Fritz is also compared to a “gorilla” (p. 27).  The “gorilla” characterization carries racist undertones.  When speaking, the word for “barking” (as in, like a dog) is used (p. 38).  If readers are reading with the darker-skinned character on the cover in mind, a connection is being made between Fritz’ skin tone, his large size, and his “animal-like” behavior.

This section is for teachers who are working towards sourcing more texts within the four domains of anti-bias education. We are excited about reading all books and we understand that not all books are written for this specific purpose. 

Does this text work toward goals within any of the four domains of anti-bias education as defined by Teaching Tolerance


Fast Stirbt Er is a classic “travel story” featuring Rachel, a white American girl from Michigan, who travels to Bavaria, Germany for 6 months where she stays with relatives.  While in Germany, she experiences German school, gets to save two lives, and makes friends and good memories. 

The protagonist is a female who, despite a few stereotypical behaviors usually assigned to teenage girls, has agency throughout the story: she wants to travel to Germany to better understand her own heritage and while there, she saves two boys from choking. She saves the first boy at the beginning of the story and they become fast friends. The second boy however, is a bully, and when he gets saved at the end of the story, he apologizes for being so mean throughout the story. The language, while not suited for complete beginners, is fairly simple and one learns a few typical cultural details about Bavaria, including the celebration of Fasching (or Carnival).

The characterization of Fritz, the bully, is inappropriate and offensive: the narrator compares him to a gorilla, which has racist undertones, especially since the cover shows Fritz as being dark-skinned.  Additionally, Fritz is essentially bullied into apologizing to Rachel at the end of the story, as she makes him repeat his apology over and over in front of all their classmates until he says it sufficiently loudly to her desire.  Though he is “friends enough” with Rachel to see her off when she returns to the US, he is given no more dimension in the story other than as a bully described as similar to an animal, and then as a sheepish former bully.

Furthermore, Rachel gets interested in her German heritage through a school project in chapter 3: the Heritage Project. This project requires students to trace where their ancestors came from and when they came to the USA. This project assumes a white European background, and/or some kind of legal/voluntary immigration. This assumption erases the fact that African Americans did not voluntarily “immigrate” to the USA and that Native Americans did not “immigrate” to the USA, and that intergenerational trauma continues to affect children of these communities whose ancestors were removed from their homes, enslaved, or made to assimilate to the dominant culture. Likewise, children who have been adopted may or may not at all know where their ancestors came from and when.  The teacher may decide to specifically address and discuss the harm caused by such projects. The narrator does attempt to “include” many countries in the list of potential countries of origin, and lists many European and Asian countries by name.  However, “Africa” is listed in this same list of country names. No individual African countries are named.  

View our statement on TPRS Books

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