I’m just in the process of reviewing Rose Tremain’s new novel The Gustav Sonata for Bookbrowse and one of the things I loved in it were the references to Heinrich Hoffman’s 1840’s children’s classic Struwwelpeter – also known in English as Shockheaded Peter.


It’s the most wonderfully bold illustrations and ten gruesome tales about the consequences in store for children who are dirty, rude or unkind –  all delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets. Some of these naughty young people get off relatively lightly. Johnny Head-in-air, for example, only ends up soaked and without his red writing book. Fidgety Philip rocks back on his chair and falls, pulling the tablecloth with all that is on it on top of himself.

Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup on the other hand, dies after only five days. Now we are talking. I can think of a certain child in my house that I should have read that one to.

We did have a copy of this book in the house when I was growing up and the two I really remember (pictures & story) are, not surprisingly, the most horrible.

Here is the key moment in The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb (not prizes for guessing what his behavioural issue was!):


Oooh. Who could look at that great, long, red-legg’d scissor-man and not feel anxious? And look at the blood dripping. Snip! Snap! Snip! Gives me the shivers even now.

The same is true of my other ‘favourite’, “The Dreadful Story about Harriet and the Matches”. What a title! You can already guess what’s to come which makes it all the more enticing! Here’s the illustration that says it all:


Don’t you just love the cats? They cry when she dies. It’s very sad.

Come to think of it, my brother never really did like lighting matches…

Recommended reading for all parents and overconfident children.


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