We often associate fairy tales with picture books, but there are numerous differences. We should know a fairy tale is a literary form (like fable, myth, legend…) and a picture book is a form of media (like comic book, theater play, newspaper…). So they can co-exist or live totally different lives. First picture books are old as print and they were typically encyclopedias where picture accompanied written word to make a better presentation (think of maps and diagrams).
The first picture book made for children was Heinrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter: Merry Stories and Funny Pictures.
The original title was actually Lustig Geschichetnen und drollige Bilder (Jolly Tales and Funny Pictures), but soon everybody knew it only by the name of the first character: Struwwelpeter.
The books was first published in 1500 copies and sold out in four weeks.
Book Struwwelpeter is of course in the public domain and it can be easily found on Project Gutenberg. It was first published in Germany in 1844 and English translation followed in 1848. Some more interesting facts:
1. Heinrich Hoffman wrote and illustrated Struwwelpeter for his three old son because he could not find a proper book for his present. His friends persuaded him to publish it to a wider audience and it was a huge hit.
2. Struwwelpeter was a mix of short poems, educational stories, and colorful pictures. Because of this in picture books, we still expect a lot of pictures, not too much text and at least some educational points.
3. Foundation for modern picture books (one story, one picture book) was set half of century later with Beatrix Potter’s book about Peter Rabbit.
4. Heinrich Hoffman wrote several more picture books in next years, but none came close to the success of the Struwwelpeter.
5. Even Mark Twain wrote his version of Struwwelpeter, titled Slovenly Peter, but due copyright restrictions it was published only in 1935, 25 years after his death.
I bet you didn’t know all that!