10 classic German children's books

10 classic German children's books

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business

Grown-ups might find this book about the little mole with poop on his head a bit embarrassing, but that hasn't kept it from becoming internationally known. Wolf Erbruch's 1989 book has a promising title — and doesn't disappoint. In 2017, Erbuch became the first German to win the Astrid Lindgren Prize, which was founded in 2002 in honor of the Pippi Longstocking author from Sweden.

10 classic German children's books

Max and Moritz

"Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks)" was published by Wilhelm Busch in 1865 and has since found its way into countless German children's rooms. The illustrated story about the two mischievous boys is told in rhymes that are still quoted to this day. The book's title satirizes the way theater plays were often given subtitles at the time.

10 classic German children's books

Die Häschenschule (Bunny School)

The book "Die Häschenschule" by Albert Sixtus, illustrated by Fritz Koch-Gotha, is also told in rhymes. The story of bunny siblings Hans and Grete was first published in 1924 - a time when teachers were authoritarian, pupils were well behaved and foxes were naughty.

10 classic German children's books

Alarm im Kasperletheater (Alarm in the Puppet Theater)

This 1958 children's book by Nils Werner, illustrated by Heinz Behling, was a classic in communist East Germany and was adapted as a film. Even today, it's particularly popular in eastern Germany. In the story, a little devil steals the pancakes for grandma's birthday party and a wild chase ensues. Behling was also a caricaturist and co-founder of the East German satire magazine, "Eulenspiegel."

10 classic German children's books

Rundherum in meiner Stadt (Around in My City)

Ali Mitgutsch is considered the father of hidden-picture books in the German-speaking world. His first volume, "Rundherum in meiner Stadt" (Around in My City) came out in 1968 and received the German Youth Literature Prize the following year. Since then, numerous volumes of highly detailed illustrations have been published in Germany and abroad. His books contain no words, but lots of humor.

10 classic German children's books


In 1982's "Friends" by Helme Heine, a pig, a chicken and a mouse go on adventures together. The author, a Berlin native, currently lives in New Zealand and his works have been translated into many different languages. "Friends" was adapted as the animated feature "Mullewapp" from 2009.

10 classic German children's books

Bobo Dormouse

Bobo's recipe for success seems to be simple drawings about everyday life in the zoo, at the playground and in the backyard, each accompanied by some short text. Swiss author Markus Osterwalder first released the stories in 1984 and they have since been adapted into numerous cartoon series.

10 classic German children's books

Rainbow Fish

In 1992, Swiss author Marcus Pfister released his colorful picture book about the joy of sharing, friendship and being an individual. The story of the fish with the shiny scales has been translated into numerous languages and adapted as a musical and cartoon series. The fish is also available as a bath toy.

10 classic German children's books

Next Please

The poem "Next Please" by Austrian poet Ernst Jandl, about the fear of waiting your turn at the doctor's office, was first published in 1970. In 1997, Norman Junge illustrated a children's book based on the poem, which was nominated for the German Youth Literature Prize. The original German title is "fünfter sein" — being fifth.

10 classic German children's books

The Gruffalo

British author Julia Donaldson and German illustrator Axel Scheffler teamed up to make a true classic with "The Gruffalo." The English version appeared in 1999 and the German edition followed in 2002. In the story, a mouse tells the other animals about his imaginary friend, the dangerous Gruffalo. But it turns out he's real! A 2011 animated film based on the book was nominated for an Oscar.

Germans are very attached to the books they grew up with as children, which is why they often end up reading these classics to their own kids later on. Here are some of the country's most famous authors.

With "Max and Moritz (A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks)," German poet Wilhelm Busch created not only one of the first comic books in the German language over 150 years ago, he also created a classic children's book.

Illustrated books with short texts are handed down from generation to generation in Germany.

This is the case with children books written by James Krüss in the 1950s and 1960s, including the very popular "Henriette Bimmelbahn," which tells the story of a locomotive-hauled train named Henriette.

Many of the German classics, including those written by Krüss and "Max and Moritz," are written in rhyme. That's the case as well for "Die Häschenschule" or "The Gruffalo."

Ali Mitgutsch, renowned for his richly detailed large-format picture books, didn't need any words at all.

This other 1960s classic, "My Donkey Benjamin," is illustrated with black-and-white photography.

The book depicts Susi's adventures with her donkey Benjamin on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes

The picture gallery above goes through some of the most popular German-language children's book classics.

Read more from Meet the Germans:  Parenting issues many Germans feel strongly about

The other way around, some books originally written in other languages are cult classics in Germany, including:

  • "The Little Polar Bear," by Hans de Beer (Netherlands)
  • "Miffy," by Dick Bruna (Netherlands)
  • The "Pettson and Findus" books, by Sven Nordqvist (Sweden)
  • The "Mama Moo" books, by Jujja and Tomas Wieslander and also illustrated by Sven Nordqvist (Sweden)
  • The "Elmer" books, by David McKee (UK)
  • "Guess How Much I Love You," by Sam McBratney (Ireland)
  • "Frederick" and "Little Blue and Little Yellow," by Leo Lionni (Italy)
  • "The Three Robbers," by Tomi Ungerer (France)
  • "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak (USA)
  • "Good Night, Gorilla," by Peggy Rathmann (USA)
  • "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," by Eric Carle (USA)

    The might even be several copies of Eric Carle's classic in a German child's collection

Which picture books are your favorites? Let us know on Twitter via @dw_culture, tagged with #MeetTheGermans.

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 Find more content about Germany's culture, traditions and habits on our Meet the Germanspage.

Here are even more children's books classics that you can read in English:

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

A good witch and a coffee grinder robber

A giant of German children's lit, Otfried Preussler wrote for kids aged six and up. "The Little Witch" tells of a girl learning the hard way what it means to be a "good" witch. In "The Robber Hotzenplotz," a man steals a grandma's coffee grinder - and two boys set off to capture him. This tale also features the wizard Petrosilius Zwackelmann. Say his name aloud - that's the kind of story this is.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

'The NeverEnding Story' and beyond

If the movie "The NeverEnding Story" thrilled you during your youth, you can - like the hero of that tale - immerse in Michael Ende's masterpiece that inspired the film. Following the movie's success, his other works were also translated. "Momo" deals with time - and criticizes efficiency and stress. "Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver" is a beloved classic of German children's literature.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Off to paradise with tiger and bear

In "The Trip to Panama," a bear and a tiger lead a dreamy and lazy life - until a wooden crate comes floating on a nearby river. "Panama" is written on it, and it smells like bananas. Intrigued, the bear and tiger set off to find this wonderful smelling country. Their long and winding quest leads them to the best place on Earth: home. Janosch's imagery and surreal logic charm young and old alike.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Germany's favorite dinosaur

A well-known little dinosaur in Germany, the urmel, hatches from an egg in "Urmel From The Ice." The story is one Max Kruse's most famous works, thanks to its TV adaptation by the Augsburger Puppenkiste (picture). It also inspired the animated film "Impy's Island." The author's other famous work, "Lion on the Loose," is a merry adventure following an escaped wild animal through the city.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Escaping the Nazis

Each of the main characters remains a safe distance away from evil in "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" (1971), by Judith Kerr. It is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old, Anna, whose family flees Germany just as the Nazis take power. There is no war in this novel; it hasn't happened yet. But the story remains as relevant today as it ever has been: By the end, Anna and her family are refugees.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Humorous adventures in realist Berlin

Heading to Berlin? Pick up a copy of "Emil and the Detectives" by Erich Kästner. It'll take you (and your children) back to the German capital as it was in the late 1920s. After that, try another of Kästner's stories: In "Lottie and Lisa," separated twin girls meet each other for the first time at a summer camp. Decades later, it was adapted to the 1998 Hollywood blockbuster "The Parent Trap."

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

Max and Moritz

Many kindergartens and primary schools in Germany are named "Max and Moritz" after the prank-pulling duo in Wilhelm Busch's classic book. Note, however, that the book's pranks - and its moral compass - are firmly set in 1865. One example (spoiler alert!): After the boys' final prank fails, the two are ground up into pieces and fed to ducks. That's it. The end. No sequel.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

The consequences of misbehaviour

Another sure way to traumatize your kids is "Struwwelpeter." In two of these 10 "moral" stories, a child dies; in another, a kid's thumb is cut off. At least some of the stories are lighter. One involves "Fidgety Philipp," whose dinner table antics spoil every meal. Even 150 years later, his name is used to scold children who can't sit still: "Don't be such a Zappel-Philipp!"

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

The power of books

The "Inkheart" trilogy was published in the midst of the "Harry Potter" hurricane but still went on to become a success. Set in contemporary times, Cornelia Funke's main character in the story, a 12-year-old named Meggie, has the ability to take things out of books and make them come to life. It's something of a family trick. But it wouldn't be a good story unless that power came at a price.

10 German children's books classics you can read in English

A city of books awaits

Zamonia is a fictional continent where funny stories happen - and the name of a series by Walter Moers. "The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear" is a good introduction, but it's OK to start with the fourth book, "The City of Dreaming Books." Often, the author describes a character, waits a while for the mental picture to cement, and then - surprise! - unveils a wacky illustration of his creation.