An old book of German horror stories to frighten, erm, educate! kids. The rhymed stories are terrifying and illustrated, and I can still recall lots of the rhymes now. They include
- The titular Struwwelpeter, a boy who refuses to cut or comb his hair or cut his nails, and is shunned.
- The wicked Friedrich, who hurts people and animals, until he is bitten by a dog and has to stay in bed while the dog eats his food.
- Pauline is left alone at home, and even though the cats warn her, she plays with matches, and she burns to death.
- Three boys taunt a dark-skinned boy, and in turn get dunked in ink so that they look even darker.
- Konrad is warned not to suck his thumbs. When he does it while his mother is away, a tailor appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors. (These left an impression on me!)
- Kaspar refuses to eat his soup for several days, and continues losing weight until he dies.
- Philipp won’t sit still, and in the end knocks over the entire dinner table. His name is still used for children who fidget a lot: Zappelphilipp.
- Hans has a habit of looking into the sky instead of where he’s going, so he falls into a river. He’s rescued, but his books float away, truly the worst fate.
- Robert goes outside during a storm, which catches his umbrella and he flies away.
Honestly, as a kid I didn’t think anything about them – they’re not really more gruesome than a grandmother getting eaten by a wolf, or a witch baked in her own oven. But then, they were only in use for entertainment, and never as education, so I got off lightly.
This book offers us a view into the attitude towards children 150 years ago, and shows that some patterns of behaviour, like attention deficit with and without hyperactivity, were well-known in certain circles. I haven’t read any more about education in that time, but Die roten Matrosen features school and educational attitudes in Germany between 1910 and 1920, which comes close and provides interesting historical insights.