German cautionary tales, such as those represented in Struwwelpeter, provide a powerful commentary when viewed through a sociocultural lens.
Once upon a time children were not considered the precious little gems they are today. In fact, the fairy tales collected and published by the Brothers Grimm were originally targeted for an adult audience. The old stories kept things interesting back in the days when families and friends gathered around the hearth to entertain and pass the shadowy hours before retiring into slumber.
|Hansel and Gretel|
They were also reflective of the times. The mortality rate for urban children under age five was as high as 66 percent in the late 1600s, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth, forests were dangerous and the majority of the population believed in - and feared - witches.
I've embarked upon an exploration of the history of these beloved childhood stories by Charles Perrault (Mother Goose), The Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy and others for a university course I am teaching on Children's Literature.
As I learn more about the beauty and horror in bedtime stories I am grateful I dwell in a professional landscape that allows for research rooted in theory and research based on practical implementation.
I became curious about how children today would react to the darkest of the dark. They were already fascinated with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow so would they embrace The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb? Would it be too much?
If you are unfamiliar, check out this video.
I began by acting out the story embodying the great tall tailor who "always comes to little boys that suck their thumbs". The children giggled and called for more. That afternoon - and for many days since - they've reenacted the story on the playground. They also silently ask to read the book during free time by holding up their thumbs and pretending to snip it off. They even drew pictures.
|The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb|
In the end, I suppose children today are undeterred by the warnings presented in Struwwelpeter to be "good at meal-times, good at play, good all night and good all day" or else a terrible fate awaits.
Although...one thoughtful first grader did quietly comment as he handed the book back to me, "This is a dangerous book".