Illustration · Nursery Rhymes

Just what the Doctor ordered – Dr. Hoffmann’s Brutal Nursery Rhymes

These cheerfully illustrated, vintage German nursery rhymes come packed with morbid morals and deadly consequences…

When it comes to book illustrations I can never resist old, hand-coloured etchings, so I thought I’d share one of my favourite childhood books.

I grew up in Germany until age 10 when I moved to England. My German grandmother was a big part of my life growing up and one of the earliest books she gave me was a re-print of the popular Der Struwwelpeter – or Shock-headed Peter.

Deadly morals

Like most children’s books the stories are meant to inform children with moral lessons, but this collection of rhyming cautionary tales doesn’t sugar-coat what disastrous events will happen to naughty children.

Complete with depictions of a little girl burning to death from playing with matches and a boy starving to death from not eating his dinner, this book comes from a time (1845) before political correctness I guess was really a thing to worry about.

Who would write something so brutal?

By today’s standards some might think the author and illustrator must have been a bit twisted to depict a child having his fingers cut off because of sucking them. But the author Dr. Heinrich Hoffman didn’t intend it to be gruesome at all.

He was actually a physician and although he worked in a lunatic asylum, he was apparently known to be a kind, warmhearted man. He intended Struwwelpeter to be a comedy satire – a lively and humorous way to encourage children to remember the serious consequences of misbehaviour.

Whatever your moral outlook, I’ll always have a soft spot for the catchy rhymes, bright blocky colours and cheerfully brutal truths.


If you want to read the English language versions of Struwwelpeter get on over to Amazon where you can buy it for under £5!

amazon_uk_logoClick here to buy Struwwelpeter at Amazon UK

amazon_us_logo Click here to buy Struwwelpeter at Amazon US

Also, if you’re interested in the Hoffman’s life and work in Frankfurt’s lunatic asylum from 1852, author Clare Dudman has written a widely praised novel based on this. It’s called 98 Reasons for Being  and you can find out more about it on her author page.


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