If you possess any sort of fluency in the German language, there's a good chance you've encountered children's author Heinrich Hoffman's 1845 bedtime classic Struwwelpeter. In this collection of morality tales, children are — with gleeful abandon — immolated, humiliated, and mutilated by men with giant scissors. Pleasant dreams, everyone!

Unlike, say, Aesop's Fables, in which chatty animals steer the reader toward the path of moral rectitude, Struwwelpeter is more interested in teaching children that A.) there are a litany of ways to die painfully; and B.) that their own stupidity and lack of 19th century Teutonic manners are almost always the cause.


As George Mason University explains, the origins of Struwwelpeter echo the origins of Festivus, as delineated by George Constanza's father on Seinfeld:

Hoffman, a Frankfurt physician and father, wrote the book after realizing that there were none he wanted to buy for his 3-year-old son for Christmas [...] While many German parents today find the tales disturbing, those who raised their children during the early decades of the 20th century found them useful for childrearing. Parents' mention of a specific character in Der Struwwelpeter kids knew well served as short-hand criticism of objectionable behavior.

Indeed, Struwwelpeter opens with a promise that good children on Christmas will receive this tome of terror as a present, whereas bad kids will receive bupkis. (Hoffman clearly didn't think out this incentive structure.)

The first tale, Shock-headed Peter, warns die kinder that poor hygiene will transform you into the lovechild of David Lee Roth and Lady Deathstrike from X-Men 2:

Just look at him! there he stands,
With his nasty hair and hands.
See! his nails are never cut;
They are grimed as black as soot;
And the sloven, I declare,
Never once has combed his hair;
Anything to me is sweeter
Than to see Shock-headed Peter.

Strange stuff, but nothing fatal. Let's jump ahead to the end of "The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches," which really should be adapted into a Smokey the Bear campaign:

So [Harriet] was burnt, with all her clothes,
And arms, and hands, and eyes, and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.

And when the good cats sat beside
The smoking ashes, how they cried!
"Me-ow, me-oo, me-ow, me-oo,
What will Mamma and Nursey do?"
Their tears ran down their cheeks so fast,
They made a little pond at last.

"The Story Of The Man That Went Out Shooting" teaches us the paramount lesson of firearm safety. Namely, that sentient rabbits will steal your guns if you're negligent...

...whereas "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" informs tots that A.) a vengeful tailor will lop off your appendages with hedge trimmers; and B.) your parents will shrug nonchalantly when it happens.

And finally there's "The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup." This story imparts the subtle lesson, "If you don't eat, you will die immediately."


You can read the entirety of Struwwelpeter here. Hoffman's nightmare tales were also adapted for Walter Hayn's 1911 American children's book Slovenly Betsy (full text here). Behold some complex-inducing illustrations from that.

Proud Phoebe, whose perpetual nose in the air mutated her vertebrae.

The little girl who "cried her eyes out."

Romping Polly, who made the mistake of rough-housing with little boys and broke her leg.

See how her brother bursts in tears,
When told the dreadful story;
And see how carefully he bears
The limb all wet and gory.

Romping Polly dies, of course.

And finally, "The Little Glutton" who tried to eat honey straight from the beehive.