The Root Children

Amy Crehore says, "There is something about children who live underground and play with big ants and other bugs that appeals to me." And who in their right mind would disagree with her?

Illustrations by Sibylle Von Olfers for this 1906 book can be found on 50 Watts. Read the Story of the Root Children at the Digital Children's Library.

People that live underground


  1. The pilgrim’s-progress and dual-layered above-/underground imagery are really interesting – were it not for the color and the way the children and bugs are drawn, I would have imagined this to be a much older work.

  2. “Root Children” were a part of my German-heritage childhood, but I much preferred the “Teenie Weenies” in the Sunday funnies. One illustration, with a character to cut out, and a delightful narrative. Very fond memories of my dad reading this week’s adventure. A generation later, Dad made up his own Teenie Weenie stories for his grandchildren. Here’s a link to a site that honors William H. Donahey’s little people.

  3. On the NYC subway there are public art posters tucked into some of the above-window advertising panels.  One of them always sort of spooked me, it showed a crossview of a miniature world much like the Root Children picture above.  Below the ground you saw a cartoony bunch of people and a mix of cartoony vehicles.  Above ground you saw giant insects, many times larger than the below ground people. 

    I always felt that I was being shown some sort of post-apocalypse story, with human beings  trapped under ground with their rag-tag vehicle caravans hiding from the horrible insects overhead.  The worst part was that people were climbing a staircase, just about to come out aboveground – obviously an act of desperation, a last chance to see the sunlight before being consumed by the monsters. 

    1. The more I look at the Root Children image the more it merges into the horrible subway poster world.  Obviously some insects are intelligent enough to take prisoners, the children are being marched off as POWs for who-knows what reason.

  4. Not of German descent, I was unfamiliar with this charming story when a friend gave us a book of the Root Children. Otherworldly, Darger-esque and utterly fascinating (and woefully short). A much nicer gift then the Gothic script Bibles, endless copies of Food that Schmecks and the horror show of Struwwelpeter that my wife received as a child.

    For those German grannies who happen to be reading BB (hey it could happen) out there looking for a gift for their young grandchildren – Root Children yes, Struwwelpeter no (well maybe when they are a teenager).

  5. When my grandmother’s old copy of The Root Children started crumbling. We scanned it to CD. Nice to see that someone else did the same with a copy in much better condition.

  6. I had this book as a child in the 1950s (not sure if it was an English-language edition or the German one that my many-language-speaking babysitter read to me) and my daughter loved the English-language edition from circa 1990-1994, when she was six and it went out of rotation in favor of more complex narratives. 

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