Your Favorite German Children’s Books, in English and German!
I grew up reading German books for children in German. Sadly, my kids never learned German (read why HERE), and I was sad that they would never get to enjoy the stories that were so familiar to me. Now I’m finding more and more German Children’s Books in English… so, finally, my kids will get to read about Die Kleine Hexe and Max und Moritz. Now, some of these books have been available in English for a while… you may not have even realized that they are originally German! And some story books were just never translated until recently.
And if you are learning German, do what my mom did with English… start with children’s books! Read the German language books children love side by side with the English version. Much better than boring vocabulary drills!
How many of these books have you read? In English? or in German?
German Children’s Books in English and German
I’ve included links to both the English and the German versions of the book, wherever possible. This way, German or English learners can read them side by side.
Max und Moritz / Max and Moritz
When I was little, I begged for the stories of Max and Moritz over and over, until my parents finally gave me a record album of the book (these were the pre-cassette and downloadable book days.) I still remember the deep voice booming the opening lines..
“Ach, was muß man oft von bösen
Kindern hören oder lesen!||
Wie zum Beispiel hier von diesen,
Welche Max und Moritz hießen.”
“Ah, how often we read or hear of
Boys we almost stand in fear of!
For example, take these stories
Of two youths, named Max and Moritz.”
The stories of those bad boys Max and Moritz have entertained kids since 1865. Wilhelm Busch uses a rhyming style with a distinct cadence (called trochaic tetrameter) to describe each progressively worse “Streich” (trick or misbehavior) that the boys undertake. Until, finally, they go too far… and the punishment is harsh. The line illustrations that accompany the text are classic! Supposedly, Busch wrote the stories about his childhood exploits with his friend Erich Bachmann (who was the Max to his Moritz). Busch’s works fascinated me as a child… I had my own copy of Max and Moritz, and also loved turning the pages of my mom’s big red “Collected Works or Wilhelm Busch”.
Der Räuber Hotzenplotz / The Robber Hotzenplotz
Otfried Preussler is a master at writing timeless and fun adventure stories for kids, including Die Kleine Hexe / The Little Witch and Krabat. But the Robber Hotzenplotz stands out as a favorite. In the first book, Hotzenplotz threatens Oma with his peppergun, steals her Coffee Mill! Kasperl and his friend Seppel must use all their wits and tricks to escape a witch and lure Hotzenplotz into a trap, so they can get the Coffee Mill back. It’s all in good fun, and a great chapter book for early readers.
Doppelte Lottchen/ The Parent Trap
These German Children’s books in German and English are familiar to any Haley Mills or even early Lindsey Lohan fan, since it was made into the movie the Parent Trap. Two twin girls who are separated at birth meet each other at a Summer Camp, and decide to make a switch. Rude Lisa goes “home” to Munich to meet her Mother… while shy and respectful Lottie takes Lisa’s place in Vienna. Naturally, it’s very confusing, and a bit silly for everyone. Erich Kästner published the original story in 1949, and since then it has been made into a movie 20 times around the world. Who among us hasn’t wondered about a secret twin that might be out there somewhere… just waiting to be a new best friend.
Emil Und Die Detektive/ Emil and the Detectives
Another book by Erich Kästner was one of the first German children’s books to describe the contemporary world, Berlin, complete with rough characters... and most surprisingly, to avoid obvious “moralizing”. Emil is tasked with bringing money to his Oma by train. On the way, the money is taken, and Emil ends up in the wrong part of the city. With the help of a boy named Gustav, and some other kids who call themselves “the Detectives”, Emil is able to re-claim his mother’s money. There is a sequel, called Emil and the Three Twins which is not as well known. While the first Emil book was considered harmless, sadly, his other pre-WWII books were banned, and subject to Nazi censorship and burning. Luckily, today all of the books are easy to get.
Stuwwelpeter / Slovenly Peter
When Heinrich Hoffmann went looking for Christmas Present for his three year old son, he couldn’t find a book that satisfied his intense need to impart good moral behavior… so he wrote one himself. And it’s a doozy. This book of stories, the stuff of nightmares, has frightened and titillated kids since 1845! Stuwwelpeter, the first story, is about a boy named Peter who refuses to comb or cut his hair, trim his nails or clean up… and what happens to him. The other stories go into gruesome detail what happens to children whose behavior does not meet their parent’s standards. The story of the Daumenlutscher (Thumb sucker) was a grisly worry for me since the mother had the boy’s thumbs CUT OFF! And I am a notorious Zappel-Philipp (according to my parents, my grandparents, my cousins…..) Struwwelpeter was one of the first books for children that contained illustrations, and is considered to be the precursor to comic books. You can read more about Struwwelpeter and the female version, Struwweliese HERE
Letters from Felix / Abenteuerliche Briefe von Felix
There was a time when you couldn’t get away from Felix the Rabbit... everywhere you went you saw Felix backpacks, shoes, pencil cases, stickers, suitcases and stuffed animals. In fact, if a rabbit holding a plaid suitcase could be put on it, there would be a Felix tie in. Felix was a sensation! And with good reason… it’s really good! When returning from a family vacation, Sophie loses her stuffed Rabbit, Felix, at the airport. She’s devastated… but… a little while later, letters from Felix begin to arrive from all around the world! What makes the Felix books special are the fun added details. An envelope on each page contains a letter and photo of Felix in these exotic locations. (And kids learn a little about geography despite themselves). Annette Langen wrote a several follow up books to Letters from Felix, all following the same format. And you can probably still find a Felix Suitcase…
Freundebuch / Friendship Book My Friends and I
Der Regenbogenfisch / The Rainbow Fish
While reviewers say that The Rainbow Fish is a “cautionary tale about selfishness and vanity”, Marcus Pfister tells us that it’s just a nice story about the joys of giving and sharing. I tend to agree. The Rainbow Fish is a beautiful book with lovely illustrations… especially with colors of the Rainbow Fish’s spectacular scales. When a small fish wants to have one, the Rainbow Fish rudely sends him away… but then can’t understand why the other fish begin to ignore him. Once he starts sharing the scales, he realizes the joy it brings to everyone, including himself. This book has several follow ups, so it’s perfect for kids who love the dazzling Rainbow Fish… and for parents who don’t want to read the same book over and over. And I will fess up, Marcus Pfister, is Swiss, not German, but the original stories are in German…. besides, the illustrations make these just too beautiful to pass up.
Tintenherz / Inkheart
Cornelia Funke, sometimes called the “German J.K Rowling” (Or is J.K Rowling the English Cornelia Funke?), created an amazing fantasy world for all of us to delve into. Inkheart is based on the idea that a person could have the ability to read characters in a book INTO EXISTANCE! But at a cost… Meggie, whose mother is missing, lives with her father, a book binder. A mysterious stranger arrives at the door, sending them off on a trip to visit Aunt Elinor in her house full of books. While there, Meggie learns her father is a Silvertongue… and accidentally read characters out of the book Inkheart, and by bringing the characters out of the book, sent his wife into the book. Now, they need to get her back. Although it was published in 2003, and thus, a bit late from my childhood, but the book lover in me took to the series wholeheartedly. In fact, all of her books are fairly marvelous… check out Dragon Rider, and the Thief Lord (set in Venice).
Das Geheimnis auf Burg Maus / Mystery at Mouse Castle
A fun new series from Rachel Selle called The European Adventures, starts with Mystery at Mouse Castle (Burg Maus) along the Rhine. The series reminds me a bit of the Famous Five, which I devoured as a child, in both English and German… so I’m delighted to see that the book is now available in German! The first book includes a visit to Burg Maus as part of a Rhine adventure, an International crime syndicate, and a coin from the Holy Roman Empire. The series is perfect for young mystery lovers, and there’s some history involved as well. (Book 2, Aix Marks the Spot, was just released!)