Reading German children's books can be a fantastic way to ease yourself into native content, as they are short, rewarding and accessible! If you're looking for easy German texts to read, but cannot yet tackle intermediate German novels, children's literature or teen fiction might be a great start.
Children's books can help make language learning easier in a number of ways, from helping you to increase your knowledge of German idioms and vocabulary, to providing an enjoyable and entertaining way to practice your German.
Additionally, unlike with normal German beginner books, children's books often contain simple language and clear illustrations that make understanding the content easier, meaning you can get more out of the reading experience.
Let's first have a look at some German children's books classics, that were originally published in German. After these first 6 books, we're also going to have a look at children's book that were not originally published in German, but that were translated into German and became very popular in Germany.
Lastly, we're going to look at German young adult fiction and in the very end of this article we'll show you two children's books classics, that might seem a bit cruel in 2023.
A list of the best German children's books has to include at least one novel by Erich Kästner: The question was whether to pick Pünktchen & Anton, Das fliegende Klassenzimmer or Emil & die Detektive. We chose the latter, but it wasn't an easy choice!
Twelve-year-old Emil leaves his hometown to visit relatives in Berlin for the first time, all alone.
When the money his mother gave to him, intended for his Grandmother, is stolen on the train, he resolves to find the thief himself. As he navigates the big city, he makes friends, who help him scour Berlin for clues. Together, they're determined to get Emil's money back.
It's a really solid mix between a children's book & a light detective novel. If you read this book and end up liking it, make sure to also check out Pünktchen & Anton or Das fliegende Klassenzimmer, also by Erich Kästner.
Janosch's children's books are absolute staples here in Germany, with the most popular work being the story book Oh wie schön ist Panama - an illustrated picture book for very young children.
What we'd like to present to you now is different though: This next book by Janosch is not so well known, but a really heartwarming German children's book and ideal for language learners, since it contains less illustrations and lot more text (compared to his other books, that is). It's called: Der Mäusesheriff.
A sweet and uplifting parody of the Wild West, der Mäusesheriff, clad in boots and a cowboy hat, shows up at the mouse town of Katzelbach one day, unannounced, ready to share the tales of his adventures with anyone who'll listen.
Little do they know that the cheeky mouse has made everything up, and his true abilities are put to the test, when Bimsel the cat interrupts the storytelling, hungry for dinner.
This book is one of a series of children's books, about a curious creature named "Sams" - a cheeky creature, with coarse red hair, blue freckles and frog feet.
One Saturday, Sams appears, unannounced, in the home of Mr Taschenbier- an unremarkable, timid man, who had - until then - lived an unremarkable, timid life.
Although things are unpleasant to begin with, soon the two begin an unlikely friendship, and learn valuable life lessons from each other.
There is also a film version of this book, for those interested!
Momo is a classic (together with Michael Ende's "Neverending Story"), but written for children & teenagers who aren't reading the very easy stuff anymore.
A lively city is visited by the mysterious Men in Grey, who encourage its citizens to adopt the idea of timesaving - putting time away in the bank, in order to collect it later with interest.
As a result of their influence, more and more citizens give up on social activities, art, and even sleeping… anything deemed unnecessary, for the sake of saving time.
Life becomes dull and joyless for the citizens. Worse than that- they don't even know that the Men in Grey have deceived them... It's up to Momo - a little girl, to find the stolen time, and give it back to the people.
There's also an audiobook available for “Momo”, if you're interested!
Would this list be complete, without including one of the most culturally significant children's books in, not only German speaking countries, but the world?
The Grimms Märchen book is famously composed of hundreds of folktales that had been collected from all over the country, serving to reflect the values and norms of society at the time, packaged in fantastical narratives involving fairies, magic, elves and witches.
This book follows the adventures of fourteen-year-old orphan, Krabat.
His journey begins at a school of black arts, where he learns black magic, and marvels at his newly acquired power. As time passes, however, he slowly realises that he has unknowingly entered into a deadly game.
It becomes clear that only love can save him, and through this development, Preußler explores the dangers and temptations that come with power, and the importance and influence of love.
While many of the children's books in this list are written by German authors, we also wanted to include authors that are popular in Germany, even though the books themselves were not originally written in German.
Who would want to leave out "Harry Potter" from a blog post on children's books for language learners? Or "The little prince"? Nobody could be so cruel! They are a staples in the libraries of language learners all over the world. So here we go:
(Originally published in Norwegian, translated by Gabriele Haefs)
This book follows the life of a teenage girl named Sofie, who learns about the history of philosophy from her teacher, Alberto Knox, before both realising that they are fictional characters in a book.
In order to escape the control of the book's author, they form a plan to enter into the real world.
(Originally published in French, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger)
This classic novella is a language learning staple, extremely popular in the language learning community!
The story follows the narrator, who meets a boy called ‘the little prince', who tells him about his life; about the asteroid he lives on, the rose he fell in love with, and the narrow-minded adults he met before travelling to Earth.
The book explores themes such as love, loss and loneliness, and shares interesting perspectives on human nature and the differences between children (imagination) and adults (realism).
(Originally published in English, translated by Klaus Fritz)
This celebrated children's book is a particular favourite amongst language learners, as many already know the storyline, having read the books series or watched the films as a child.
Language learners may find this advantageous as they're less likely to get confused or overwhelmed.
(Originally published in Swedish, translated by Cäcilie Heinig)
Pippi Langstrumpf is widely read (and watched) in Germany, and this first book about the title character, introduces Pippi as living in a small town with her monkey and pony.
She sets off on a different adventure in every chapter, accompanied by her friends Thomas and Annika, and equipped with an unpredictable nature, hot temper and superhuman strength, that makes the adventures all the more unpredictable!
This well-loved, children's favourite follows the adventures of four young friends, as they solve criminal cases together, in their city.
The cases usually deal with themes related to young people, including alcohol and drug abuse, partying and friendship - particularly useful for German learners interested in adding to their vocabulary bank.
Also useful, is the audio play series available, for those who'd like to improve their German listening comprehension.
If crime fiction is particularly interesting to you, you might want to check out our list of German crime fiction books.
This critically acclaimed book sets out to capture a particularly tense time in German history, stretching between the GDR period and post-reunification, and regarding the growing presence of radical right-wing youth groups in East German provinces.
It describes the experiences of Mimi, whose relationship with childhood friend Oliver slowly disintegrates as he involves himself more and more in a violent, right-wing youth gang.
Interesting note for language learners: Mimi's voice in the novel is intentionally crafted with the use of simply constructed sentences and terms from the local dialect and youth culture.
Mo, a bookbinder, and his young daughter Meggie both share a passion for reading.
When they are warned about a man determined to get his hands on a certain book in their possession, the family flees with the desired object held close.
Despite their efforts to hide, however, the book is ultimately taken from them. In an effort to explain the situation, Mo then shares with Meggie a secret that changes her life forever, before they set out to retrieve the stolen book.
This novel is the first of a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels, by German-born british writer, Judith Kerr.
The story is set in 1933, and follows the unpredictable life of nine-year-old Anna, who flees her Berlin home with her family, as Nazism comes to power. As refugees, they travel across Europe, passing Switzerland, then Paris and ultimately settlling in England.
This story centres on Iris Sellin - a profoundly gifted pianist, who, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, decides to clone herself in an effort to keep her talent alive for longer than she herself - given her sickness - could manage.
But when her daughter finds out that she is, in fact, her mother's clone, she's dismayed by the realisation, and struggles against her mother's grasp.
Exploring the ethical implications of human cloning, this children's book is full of thought-provoking material to chew on.
The next two books are also children's books, of course, but they'd fit better into the category of picture books and feel also, to be totally honest, a little bit dated. So consider these honorary mentions.
The fact that every child in Germany has one of these on their shelves wanted us to include them here. They're also very interesting books from a cultural (and historical) perspective, and are still surprisingly easy to read.
These two story books are particularly curious, in that they are both known for graphic depictions of violence in both their illustrations and texts, despite being written for children.
The Struwwelpeter is divided into ten separate little tales, each describing a different child's naughty behaviour, and the gruesome consequences that follow, usually ending in death. Flicking through this book made us wonder whether it's truly a children's book or whether we should have included it in our page on German horror & ghost stories
Max & Moritz, on the other hand, follows the mischievous adventures of two little boys who wreak havoc on their neighbours, including the teacher, the baker and the widow, until they're terribly punished for their cheekiness.