Lessons from the Good Doctor

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we are sharing poems from our collection throughout April.

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Cover of Der Gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

Cover of Der gute Doktor. Click to enlarge.

This week, we’re celebrating national poetry month with some medical children’s verse. Der Gute Doktor:ein Nützlich Bilderbuch für Kinder und Eltern (The Good Doctor: a Useful Picture Book for Children and Parents) is a colorful children’s book written by Max Nassauer, a German gynecologist and writer.1  The first edition was published in 1905; our copy is the 9th edition, probably printed in 1926.

The book contains fourteen cautionary tales with medical morals. While the stories, and especially the illustrations, are amusing, they certainly aren’t lighthearted. The consequences of poor health habits are unpleasant. One boy falls ill after walking through the rain and snow. Another gives himself a painful stomachache because he is too embarrassed to use the bathroom at school. Sometimes the repercussions for ignoring the doctor’s orders are far more tragic. In one tale, a stubborn young man refuses the doctor’s medicine and dies the next day.

I found little information on the history of medically-themed children’s tales, but Der Gute Doktor falls into the larger tradition of didacticism in children’s literature. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, translated from oral stories between 1812 and 1857, include cautionary tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood.2 Der Gute Doktor especially brings to mind another children’s book written by a German doctor, Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, published 60 years earlier.2 Struwwelpeter includes similar tales of unruly children suffering for their bad behavior. The tale of Augustus, a boy who refuses to eat his soup and starves to death, would easily fit among the tales of Der Gute Doktor.3 Struwwelpeter was hugely popular and is one of the most well-known German children’s books.2 Undoubtedly, Nassauer was familiar with and influenced by this iconic book.

Here are a few more lessons from the good doctor (translating credit and my thanks go to Mascha Artz):

Franz, the pip swallower

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

The original German text. Click to enlarge.

On the tree
Grows the plum.
In the arcade
hangs the grape,
Apples, pears of all kinds,
cherries grow in the garden.
Oh, how fruit is healthy!
Makes the cheeks red and round.

But there has been Franz,
Who has picked up all,
That was unripe and green.
Well, how bellyache catches him!
Plums, grapes he must snack on,
Without rinsing them.
Dirt and dust he partakes,
Until of cramps he suffered.
But what was the worst:
He cursed the pips in fact!

One time there was a big bawling,
That the mother comes running.
There laid Franz on the ground
And was like dead.

The doctor came, took a tube,
Sticks it into Franz’s tummy
And takes like this, horror of horrors,
Twelve cherry pips out.
If the doctor was not there,
Franz would be living nevermore.
The belly would have burst,
his disobedient tongue

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Franz, the Pip Swallower. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

At uncle’s place there is a parrot;
who sings and talks and screeches.
It eats the fruit along with the pip.
Hans liked to watch this.
The uncle said: “Dear Hans,
Don’t touch the parrot by its tail!
Don’t go to close to the cage,
because the parrot can bite you!”
But Hans laughs and says:
“This cannot be that dangerous.”
His hand he put into the cage
and teased the parrot,
tried to grab it by the tail…
The parrot wants to hack him,
catches the finger… what crying!…
Hans’ finger is in pieces!
Blood runs down from his hand.
Hans’ limbs are shaking. –
The doctor put around his hand
Quickly a wound dressing
And gives Hans a severe look,
Nods his head and says:
“One mustn’t tease the animals!
In their fear they easily get frightened
And bite, with shock…
And crack, then the finger is gone.”

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Hans, who teased the animals. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth

The original text. Click to enlarge.

The original text. Click to enlarge.

Anna was perfectly healthy.
But she did not like rinsing her mouth
and she did not want to brush her teeth,
especially not using a tooth brush.
And soon she was not healthy any longer.
She smelled awful from her mouth.
The teeth rot and fell out…
How horrible Anna looked!
And all girls moved away from her
And sat down at the other corner.

And when she was older at a ball
all of her girl friends were dancing.
And nobody looked at Anna,
She did not have a single tooth left!
So she cried all day,
because nobody wanted to dance with her,
And sobs, although it doesn’t help now:
“Had I only brushed my teeth!”

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.

Anna who wouldn’t brush her teeth. Click to enlarge.


1. Gerabek, Werner E. (1997). Nassauer, Max.  New German Biography. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd116884150.html.

2. Chalou, Barbara Smith. (2006). Struwwelpeter: Humor or Horror? Lanham: Lexington Books. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://books.google.com/books?id=2UE2AAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

3. Hoffman, Heinrich. (n.d.)  Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures. New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12116.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from the Good Doctor

  1. Interesting children’s book! When I was young, we had a book titled “Health Can Be Fun” by Munro Leaf. The exhortations were not so dire, but the objective was to persuade children to develop healthy habits. I still have the book.

  2. Pingback: Living in the Land of Health | Books, Health and History

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