If you are looking for a book of cautionary tales for children, you may find none better than Struwwelpeter, by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman. My husband grew up listening to these dark poems of disobedience and consequence. He and his brothers all affectionately own a copy of this book. Over the years, they have shared many laughs as they remember the horrific stories contained in this book.
Dr. Heinrich Hoffman was a German Neurologist and Medical Practioner in the 1800’s. When he was looking for a good children’s book to buy for his three year old child, he became aware of the apparent lack of quality children’s books. He then wrote and illustrated a proper book for a child and gave it to his son for Christmas. This book was Struwwelpeter which became published in Germany in 1844, and it was published in England in 1848. It is made up of ten different tales that explain the horrible consequences following disobedience. Mark Twain wrote his own translation of this book called Slovenly Peter, but it was never published due to copywriting issues.
Here are just a few examples of the lessons your child will learn from the wisdom of this book:
The first story is titled Struwwelpeter, Shockheaded Peter. It is a tale of a boy who refuses to cut his hair and nails and suffers devestation for it.
The Story of Bad Frederick is about the boy who keeps teasing his dog. The dog bites the boy so badly he cannot function, and the dog gets to eat the boy’s dinner and pie.
The Dreadful Story of the Matches, as you can imagine, is about Harriett who kept playing with matches. In a scary twist to this story there are kittens singing while the little girl burns up, “Meow Meow, we told you so!” The girl of course burns up completely except for her scarlet shoes.
The Story of the Thumb-Sucker is about the boy who refuses to stop sucking his thumbs. Of course (wait for it) a tailor shows up with a giant pair of scissors and cuts both of his thumbs off.
The Story of Soup-Kasper tells of the boy who is strong and healthy until he decides to stop eating his soup. Well, like all boys who refuse their soup, he dies in five days.
The Story of Johnny Head in the Air is about the boy who never pays attention where he is going. (Can you imagine if this were written in the day of constant texting?) Well one day Johnny is not watching where he is going, and he falls into the river and loses his homework.
The Story of the Flying Robert is of the boy who goes outside in the middle of a storm. The wind picks him up and carries him away. We believe him to be dead.
There is something to be said for passing the hard truth on to the next generation. Who doesn’t want to learn from stories about the over-exaggerated harmful effects caused by naughty behavior? In the timeless words of my wise, old granddad, “That’ll learn you… dern you.”