Sibylle von Olfers and her German Children's Books Photograph of Sibylle von Olfers, German children's book author and illustrator

Sibylle von Olfers was a German children's book author and illustrator. Her blend of natural observation and use of simple design has led to comparisons to Kate Greenway and Elsa Beskow. In her short life, Sibylle von Olfers wrote and illustrated ten children's picture books, including The Story of the Root Children, which have delighted children for generations, .

Sibylle von Olfers Biography  Books by Sibylle von Olfers Illustration from The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Olfers

Sibylle von Olfers 1881–1916: Biography

Sibylle von Olfers' Childhood

Illustration from The Story of Little Billy Bluesocks by Sibylle von Olfers

Sibylle von Olfers was born on 8 May 1881 in the Castle of Metgethen in East Prussia. Her father was Ernts Friedrich Franz Gustav Werner Marie von Olfers and her mother was Olga Maria Bertha Freiin Behr, his second wife. Maria Regina Angela Hedwig Sibylle von Olfers was the third of their five children.

Sibylle and her siblings were educated by governesses and private tutors as children. However, according to her grandmother, Sibylle did not pay much attention to her lessons, instead preferring to amuse herself with fantasies and games. Her grandmother called her a 'wild bumblebee' because of this.


Illustration from The Story of the Butterfly Children by Sibylle von Olfers

Sibylle von Olfers and her love of art

Sibylle von Olfers revealed her passion for art at an early age. Encouraged by her aunt, writer and painter Marie von Olfers, Sibylle began writing and illustrating picture books for her little sister, with whom she was very close. These picture books entertained and delighted the whole family.

Marie taught Sibylle how to draw and paint plants and animals and young Sibylle would often spend hours at a time drawing. Later, at the age of seventeen, she stayed with her aunt in Berlin whilst she trained at art college.

Sibylle von Olfers' life as a nun

Illustration from The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Olfers

Sibylle von Olfers grew up to be a beautiful woman, attracting many admirers and suitors, but she remained aloof and distant from what she called the 'useless world of the aristocrats'. At the age of twenty-five, Sibylle joined an order of nuns called the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth (much to the dismay of her parents) and took the name Sister Maria Aloysia.

After two years, she was sent to work as an art teacher at a Catholic primary school in Lübeck. In addition to teaching, she continued her training at art school, mainly copying the works of Italian masters. Sibylle painted her first altar pieces for the Sacred Heart Parish in Lübeck, some of which are still well preserved.

She became ill with a lung infection and was sent to a spa in Gardone until the outbreak of the First World War, which forced her to return to Lübeck. Her symptoms were temporarily alleviated, and she was able to continue her work until Christmas Day 1915. Sadly though, her lung disease returned and Sibylle von Olfers died four weeks later, on the 29 January 1916, at the age of 35.

Picture Books by Sibylle von Olfers

Sibylle von Olfers is known for her natural observations and simple design in the art nouveau style. Her illustrations are in earthy tones and reflect the changing seasons. Her illustration style has led many to compare her to Elsa Beskow and Kate Greenaway.

Sibylle von Olfers wrote and illustrated 10 children's books in her short lifetime.


Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of the Snow Children cover image

The Story of the Snow Children
Was Marilenchen Erlebte (1905)

Poppy is gazing out of the window at the snow when suddenly she sees that the snowflakes are really Snow Children, dancing and whirling in the garden. Soon, they whisk her away to the Snow Queen's wintry kingdom.


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Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of the Root Children cover image

The Story of the Root Children
Etwas von den Wurzelkindern (1906)

All through the winter the Root Children are asleep underground, but when spring comes Mother Nature wakes them up. Then the Root Children are busy cleaning and painting the beetles and bugs. When summer comes they play in the fields, ponds and meadows.


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Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of the Rabbit Children cover image

The Story of the Rabbit Children
Mummelchen und Pummelchen (1906)

When the hunter's children fall out of their cradle in the woods, a kind mother rabbit takes them home and cares for them. She makes them rabbit suits to keep them warm and they play happily with her rabbit children. Meanwhile the hunter searches desperately for his children. He comes across some rabbits, which run away in fear. But there's something strangely familiar about these little rabbits, thinks his clever dog, Spot...




Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of Little Billy Bluesocks cover image

The Story of Little Billy Bluesocks
Butze Butze Bübchen (1906)

Little Billy Bluesocks is a fun-loving little boy who goes through the day doing tasks that all children will enjoy. He wakes up, plants a seed, feeds the rabbits, plays on the seesaw with his dog, picks apples, has a delicious supper and finally goes to bed.




Sibylle von Olfers, The Princess in the Forest cover image

The Princess in the Forest
Prinzeßchen im Walde (1909)

The princess lives in a castle in the forest. Every morning the Dew children help to get her dressed, and comb her golden hair. Little moss children bring her a delicious forest breakfast, then she practises her writing with Mrs Crow, her teacher. The Princess plays with her animals friends, the deer, hares, squirrels and birds, before telling stories to the mushroom and toadstool children. Finally, the star children light her way to bed.




Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of the Wind Children cover image

The Story of the Wind Children
Windchen (1910)

George is playing with his boats, but there's no wind to make them sail. Then one of the wind children comes and blows especially for him – and together they embark on a great adventure. The wind child blows dandelions in the meadows, shakes apples from the tree and blows the leaves around. Eventually, she blows George home on a cloud.


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Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of the Butterfly Children cover image

The Story of the Butterfly Children
Im Schmetterlingsreich (1910)

Far far away, the butterfly folk live in a kingdom of beautiful gardens. The butterfly children play, dance and sing all day long with their little brothers and sisters, the caterpillars. The children can't wait until the first day of spring, when they will finally get their wings. But first, they must learn about the many brightly coloured flowers in the kingdom, so they can take part in the flying procession of peacock, swallowtail, red admiral and many other butterflies.




Sibylle von Olfers, The Story of King Lion cover image

The Story of King Lion
König Löwes Hochzeitsschmaus (1912)

King Lion is having a feast. All his animal subjects bring their favourite meal – saltwater lemonade from the fish, snail sausages from the hedgehog and thistle salad from the donkey. But which dish will King Lion like the best? Told in lively rhyming verse.




Books not currently available in English:

Brumm-Brumm-Bärchen (1912)

Tierkindergarten (1952, published posthumously)


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Illustration from The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers

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We've got more children's authors and illustrators you'll love: visit our Elsa Beskow Author Page and Astrid Lindgren Author Page for more wonderful picture books.