A children’s book about the amazing world of taxes
“Daddy, what do you do at work?” Frank Elsweier was often asked this question by his children – but how do you explain that you’re a university lecturer in tax law and a tax consultant for EY? “Just the word ‘tax’ was enough to put the kids to sleep.” During the coronavirus pandemic, when Frank was at home more than ever, and his two young daughters still had no idea what he was doing in his study, he had an idea: he’d write a children’s book about taxes.
The result was Aureli en het toverboek. De wondere wereld van belastingen (‘Aureli and the magic book: the amazing world of taxes’). It’s an adventure story about a little girl, Aureli, who finds a magic book full of spells (the Tax Code), and together with her father, her little dog Otta, and Mrs. Fisca discovers why, and how, the treasury is filled.
How did you approach writing this children’s book?
“I was inspired by another children’s book, André het astronautje by the Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, which gives all sorts of details about space travel in a casual, narrative way. I thought it was a much better way of doing things than the non-fiction children’s books I saw in German bookshops [Frank lives in Germany – ed.] in which factual answers were given, one by one, to a list of questions. So I decided to write a story with the Tax Code at its center. For kids it’s just like a book of spells.
I’d think up new stories while I was out running, and tell them later to my own kids. They made drawings, and some got put into the book later. I put some fiscal jokes in too; the kids won’t understand them, but any grown-ups dealing with taxes will get them right away. I put all kinds of famous rulings in there, too, like the Dutch Cessna and racehorse business expense cases, and I included as many kinds of tax as I could, like sales tax, income tax, and dog tax.”
 A ‘ruling’ is a judgement by a district court or the Supreme Court
A little girl, Aureli (blending Frank’s daughters’ names, Aurelia and Eliza) sees a thick book lying on her father’s table, and comes across a mysterious spell called Article 35b: Inheritance Tax Act 1956. She asks her father to explain it; she, he, and her little dog Otta then dive into the magical world of taxes. She learns about the country’s treasury filled with money, and the leader who decides what the money should be spent on. They visit a school, a successful artist, a supermarket, and a dog park. They also witness a crook digging a big hole to hide his money in. They meet Mrs. Fisca, who checks that everyone pays their taxes. Finally they meet Yessin, who plans to take over his mother’s toy factory when he grows up.
When the story was finished Frank found an illustrator for it and then published the book through a publishing mediator. It turned out to be a popular business gift, since it painted a positive picture of the benefits and necessity of taxation. “I wanted it to be a book for the widest possible audience. And it had to tell a positive story, because taxes are often seen in a negative light; think of the Dutch childcare benefits scandal, for instance, or the country’s recent savings and investment tax issue.”
How has the book been received?
“Very well! I promoted the book through my LinkedIn network, which resulted in positive reactions and also a lot of orders. I’ve sold over 3000 copies so far. The profits are going to a good cause: Stichting Ontmoetingspark De Greune, a foundation in Haaksbergen – where I come from – that provides apprenticeships, day-center activities, and somewhere youngsters and older people can meet. It was started by Richard Migchielsen, another Tilburg University graduate. We’re going to be talking soon about how best to spend the money to promote reading.”
“At Tilburg University I started studying Business Economics but soon switched to Fiscal Economics. I was fascinated by the game that went on between the tax authorities and taxpayers. The fact that people are willing to pay taxes, but never too much – what is going on in their minds? I was so curious to find out. And although a lot of people think the Tax Code is boring, I see it as a mainstay. I’m a PhD now and I work half the week for the Fiscal Institute of Tilburg (FIT) at Tilburg University. I do research and lecture on corporation tax. The other half of the week I work at EY as a tax consultant, mostly concentrating on technical expertise in corporate tax. It’s the ideal combination for me, precisely because of the interaction between research and practice. It works both ways: I can bring my EY work into my lectures, and at EY I can bring in research insights and a broader view.”