Shockhead Peter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2011, 12:00am


A nasty storyteller

Shockhead Peter is quite a frightening figure. His long, unwashed hair stands on end as if an electric current has passed through it. His blue eyes stare emptily ahead. He has let his fingernails grow to a terrible length, and they are as black as soot. There is a no more menacing guide through a book of stories for children than Struwwelpeter.

A German classic

First published in Germany in 1845, Struwwelpeter has become one of the most popular and influential books of children's short stories ever written. Its content, style and illustrations have influenced many modern storytellers, artists and filmmakers including Roald Dahl and Tim Burton. Written in simple rhyming verse, Struwwelpeter was a sellout when it first appeared in bookshops in the German city of Frankfurt.

By 1917, Struwwelpeter had seen more than 400 editions published in Germany alone, with the first English translation appearing in 1848. The popular American novelist Mark Twain (1835 - 1910) did his own version for US readers called Slovenly Peter.

The boy with the frightening haircut was quickly on a mission to show what happened to badly behaved children no matter where they lived. There was no escape from his clutches. Doctor / Author

Heinrich Hoffman (1809 - 1884) was a well-respected family doctor in Frankfurt. He was a kindly man who often told his child patients funny stories and drew odd drawings as he was treating them.

In 1844, Hoffman wanted to buy his three-year-old son a storybook for Christmas, but couldn't find anything suitable. He decided to write his own book of stories, illustrate it himself and have it privately printed.

Hoffman called his book Merry Stories and Funny Pictures, even though neither the stories nor the pictures were funny or merry. This very special book contained 10 spooky tales about the terrible things that happened to badly behaved children. Friends persuaded the doctor to put his stories on sale, and with the title changed to Struwwelpeter, Hoffman found himself with a best-selling book on his hands. Shockhead Peter had arrived.

10 Tales

There are 10 illustrated stories in Shockhead Peter. Frederick spends his time terrorising animals, and he is eventually badly bitten by a dog. A little girl won't believe that it is dangerous to play with matches and burns to death. A young boy doesn't listen to his mother when she tells him to stop sucking his thumb, so a man appears with a pair of giant scissors and cuts off the boy's thumbs. Robert doesn't listen to his parents and goes out during a storm. The wind catches his umbrella and carries him off, never to be seen again.

You can read the full text of Shockhead Peter at

Or read the physical book:
Struwwelpeter By Heinrich Hoffmann
Dover Books
ISBN 978 0 486 28469 9