Kids these days, they just don’t respect the rules of polite society. Those cornerstones of civilization — good manners, etiquette, and an attention to personal grooming — have fallen by the wayside in this era of “enlightened parenting”. Gone are the good ol’ days when you could terrify your kids into socially-acceptable behaviour.
I propose that we rectify this situation. Tonight, when you tuck little Madison into her bed, rather than reach for that tired old copy of Goodnight Moon, you read her a story from Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter instead. Does little Maddie have a propensity for playing with matches? No problem. This issue is summarily addressed in The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches, a cautionary tale that concludes with predictably tragic results. Does your princess continually suck her thumb? Reading her The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb should effectively nip that bad habit in the bud.
The German children’s book Der Struwwelpeter was written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845 when the author couldn’t find any literature suitable to read to his young son. So popular was this book that Mark Twain created an English translation called Slovenly Peter in 1848. Amongst its many cautionary tales is the story of Kasper, a boy who chooses not to eat his soup and consequently wastes away and dies. My personal favourite is the aforementioned Suck-a-Thumb, in which a young boy refuses to heed the warnings of his mother and has his thumbs cut off by a ‘roving tailor’ with an enormous pair of scissors. (Now try sucking your thumb, kiddo).
Struwwelpeter has been republished in English by Dover this past year. Grab yourself and Maddie a copy before they disappear off bookstore shelves.
One thought on “Der Struwwelpeter: family values with that delightfully Germanic edge.”
I made some retellings of these poems with “softer” endings. They’re currently on Amazon for sale.