My ex-husband was the first person who introduced me to Der Struwwelpeter. "I have this great book from my childhood," he said. "Here. Take a look." Inside I found ten stories with gruesome pictures of what happened to naughty, naughty children who did not behave. Though the illustrations are certainly graphic enough to get the gist of what's going on, I still had my then-boyfriend now ex-husband translate the stories since I didn't speak German at the time.
There is the story of Little Suck A Thumb, who wouldn't stop sucking his thumb even though his mother warned him of the evil tailor who cuts off the thumbs of naughty little children if they don't listen to their mother. She goes away for a while, the kid sucks, the evil tailor comes and, snip, there goes the thumb.
Or of Little Paulinchen, who plays with a book of matches. Of course, she burns to death, her two precious kitty cats later weeping over her ashes.
When my then-boyfriend now ex-husband showed me this book I was pretty shocked. "You read this as a child?" I asked. After all, he was born in 1972, not 1861.
"Sure. It was a great book." When I pointed out that it was pretty morbid not to mentioning frightening he just shrugged.
Der Struwwelpeter was written in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffmann. A German psychiatrist, Hoffmann wanted to buy a picture book for his son for Christmas in 1844, but was disappointed with everything he found (perhaps they were all about gentle little lambs or good children frolicking carefree in a field....) He went home and wrote and illustrated Der Struwwelpeter which has the subtitle: Lustige Geschichte und drollige Bilder, in English Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures. Hmm...I guess the idea of "humor" was different in 1844 than it is now.
To find out more about the history of Der Struwwelpeter as well as read a synopsis of each of the ten tales, you can visit the following link: 10 Gruesome Tales. Pretty interesting really. The book was extremely popular and even had an English version called Slovenly Peter, translated by none other than Mark Twain.
I found a vintage copy a while back on ebay, but I don't think I'll be giving it to my girls. Then again, Mia is a very picky eater. Maybe if I tell her the Boogey Man is just around the corner and he will bite off her head unless she finishes her fish sticks her eating habits will improve. It could work, but she would probably have to spend a small fortune later on therapy...No, I think I'll stick with the stories about gentle little lambs and just still offer the book up for sale in Schaufenster!