Learning German with stories is a great method to practice and expand your vocabulary and grammar. But where to start? Literary German short stories or classic German novels may be intimidating for beginners or simply not everyone’s cup of tea.
So how about German children’s books? The sentences are short, there are often illustrations to support text comprehension, and most German books for children make do with a rather basic vocabulary.
Admittedly, most stories aimed at third-graders will not put adult readers at the edge of their seat, but working with these very simple narrative text can be an excellent way to practice German in a non-threatening way.
In the following article, I’d like to present a number of German language books for children that come in various formats, but most importantly, are free to download and enjoy.
Free Classic German Children’s Books From The Public Domain
One of the most well-known sources for free German children books online is the public domain, .i.e. the place where books (and other works of art) go when their copyright has run out.
For example, the classic German children’s book Der Struwwelpeter, first published in 1845 as a kind of cautionary tale, is available on Project Gutenberg in EPUB, MOBI (Kindle) and other formats. Also, the Grimm Brothers’ world-famous collection of fairy-tales can be easily obtained through the Projekt Gutenberg. Even more fairy-tales in German are offered here and here.
At the International Children’s Digital Library, home of more than 4450 books in 44 languages, there are also many German children’s books (not all of them in the public domain but permission has been granted for non-commercial use). The site can be a bit tricky to navigate but if you follow this link, you’ll get the search results for all the German language children’s books.
Childrenslibrary.org is one of the best resources online for free children’s books in multiple languages, so that you can read the German and the English (or other) version side by side. Here’s an example:
Du schaffst das schon, Josephine!
Synopsis: “Josephine, a young penguin, is discouraged by her lack of success in school, but discovers that it is better to keep trying than to give up.“
Other languages available: Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Danish, French, Italian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Persian / Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovenian, Spanish
Publisher: Carlsen Verlag
Author: Hans Wilhelm
Free Contemporary German Language Books For Children
Now, finding free German children’s books or fairy-tales in the public domain is not difficult, but there’s a problem with books or stories that are more than 100 years old. Not only are the ideas and strict morals (as in Struwwelpeter) bewildering to modern readers, also these texts often use strange vocabulary, idioms and other stylistic devices which are outdated and hard to grasp even for native German speakers.
Luckily, there are many other online sources for free German children’s books than just the public domain:
Hans Wilhelm, a renowned children’s book author whose works have been translated into thirty languages, generously offers out-of-print editions of his books as free PDF downloads. Wilhelm’s books are written in clear and contemporary language, and come with lovely full-color illustrations. Also, since he offers his children’s books in multiple languages, you can read the English and the German editions side by side, which is immensely helpful for reading-comprehension.
Additionally, there are many free German books for children published by federal German agencies, leagues and associations, which are designed as educational material for youngsters but will do just fine for German language-learning purposes.
Free German Books For Children About Environmental Issues
First of all, there’s the Bundesumweltamt (Federal Environment Agency) whose books deal with environmental issues like climate, water and waste-management. To filter out their children’s books from the thousands of publications, select Kinderbuch from the drop-down menu under Reihe and click on Anwenden.
Once you get to the search results for their children’s books, look for the buttons Downloaden und Bestellen under each title. Not all of the books are always available, but if you find a Downloaden link you’ll get an immediate PDF download, and even better: if you click on Bestellen you can get a free physical copy delivered to your doorstep, free shipping worldwide. How cool is that?
Next up is the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V. (Agency for Renewable Resources) and their Bauer Hubert (farmer Hubert) children’s book series. You can browse and download their short books in PDF format from their site.
Another free educational resource by the Bundesamt für Naturschutz (Federal Agency for Nature Protection) is Kinatschu, a children’s magazine about nature protection and conversation which can be downloaded as PDF here.
Free German Children’s Books About Engineering And Politics
There is also think-ING: an online platform about engineering studies, initiated by technical-academic and industrial associations in Germany. They offer two children’s books, one called Energie & Strom (energy and electricity) and Meine Freundin, die ist Ingenieurin (my girlfriend, she’s an engineer). The books are produced by the hiqh-quality Carlsen publishing house and can be read in-browser.
Last but not least, the Hamburgische Bürgerschaft (Hamburg Citizenry) has two German children’s books called Pixi-Wissen: Politik und Demokratie (politics and democracy) and Pixi-Wissen: Ich habe eine Freundin, die ist Abgeordnete (I have a girlfriend, she’s a representative). They also have a children’s detective series called Alster Detektive which is available as an audiobook.
The two children’s books are only available as physical copies. They are free to order (within Germany). The Alster Detektive audiobook can be obtained as free CDs or downloadable mp3s/rar archive. You can find the order (zum Bestellen) and download (zum Downloaden) links here.
German Children’s Books For German Learners
These books are designed as entry-level reading material for beginners both young and old. They both come with extensive vocabulary, illustrations and text-comprehension questions and are available as Amazon Kindle ebooks and other formats.
Have you used German children’s book in your studies? Which ones do you recommend? Tell us in the comments!