Two German Children’s Books You Need To Read (& Possibly Own)

It is said that to truly understand a culture you need to read its classic children’s books.  However, after taking a look at two of Germany’s, you might wish you never had.  They do explain, however, some peculiar quirks of the Germans that we non-Germans find a little hard to get used to.  Perhaps if we had grown up on these books, we would find ourselves with the same ones.

Der Stuwwelpeter (Shaggy Peter) by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman

Most children’s books are moral lessons hidden beneath a layer of imagery and metaphors.  Dr Hoffman obviously didn’t believe in this nonsense as he wrote a book that told children exactly what would happen to them if they broke the rules in gory and gruesome details. A girl who doesn’t listen to her mother and plays with matches burns to death in front of her cats.  A boy who sucks his thumbs has them cut off by a passing tailor. And a boy who refuses to eat his soup withers away and dies. I think if I had grown up on these tales, I would be frightened to break the rules even as an adult.  It perhaps explains why Germans are well known for their love of rules.

Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat (The Little Mole, who wanted to know who made ​​it on his head) by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch

This book is not a classic, but it is certainly very popular. I first discovered it through fellow Aussie expat Liv, who wrote a blog post about it & other strange German children’s books. When I finally managed to track down a copy, the cashier at the bookshop remarked ‘how sweet’, which is not quite the terminology I would use when looking at a drawing of a mole with a large shit on its head. The book tells the story of an unfortunate mole who is having the worse day ever.  It begins as soon as he pokes his head out of his burrow only to have someone shit on it, and so he starts his quest to find out exactly who the culprit was.  The book has many ‘lovely’ drawings of all the different poop types of animals commonly found on a farm as the mole questions each one of them. If you understand German or just want to watch the cute cartoon, you can watch the story below

From this book, we start to understand why the Germans are quite at home when discussing their bodily functions with anyone, not unlike us English folk, who only discuss it with our doctors when we really have to. It also explains the existence of the shelf toilet, a design which bewilders the rest of the world.

What are your favourite German children’s books that you think explain some of the peculiar quirks found in German culture?

5 thoughts on “Two German Children’s Books You Need To Read (& Possibly Own)

  1. I love the mole story. The most German thing about it is that at the end the mole feels completely better about being shit on after he perpetrates the same thing. Also, all the animals wearing glasses!! It kills me!!

  2. That mole story absolutely fascinated me, I watched the video all the way through even though I don’t speak German. I found it on Amazon in English btw, although I am sure some of the nuances are lost. I agree with the previous poster: loved the shelf toilet – it is memorable. The fairy tales sound great – but as definitely adult reading, or maybe inspiration for novel writing. If I had read those books when I was little I would have never come out from under the bed. I am fascinated by German culture since I traveled there and want to return sometime ( I went pre-Berlin unification) and since I love Dr. Seuss – a German American author we all know and love.

  3. Yeah, the shelf toilet. Funny how little you notice the impracticabilities when you grow up with something like that. But be assured, it is dying out. When my parents built their house in 1980, the toilets were of the more modern type. Found them odd then, because as a kid I din’t like the idea of water splashing back – well, you get the idea.
    I loved Struwwelpeter as a kid. I was not the least scared by it. The reason is that we also learned while we read this that it was not to be taken literally – at least not when I grew up. I always knew there were good and bad rules, not all having to be obeyed. When Dr. Hoffman wrote it, he meant it though, and I am glad those times are gone. Lovely pictures still. The kleine Maulwurf is much more recent. Don’t like it that much. Stupid story.
    By the way: did you ever try to read German fairy-tales? They can get pretty gruesome. These days you can buy kids versions, toned down with a lot of pc changes, happy endings and other crap. Get the originals! And give them to the kids, too. They will understand, kids are not stupid and if their minds are challenged a little more and not protected from everything, they might benefit. I’d lend you my copy of Bechstein Märchen und Sagen, but it is printed in Fraktur, might be a bit too dificult still.

    • Still working my way up to the Grimms Märchen. I brought a version of them that I was told were pretty close to the original. I’m hoping in another couple of months my German will be good enough to start reading them. Can’t wait!

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