"The Story of Little Kettle-Head"

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Remember when I said that one of the few things that really made my skin crawl was gray, blank-faced, flat, blocky, zombie-puppet people?  Well, add to that list the arguably even creepier specter of gray, smiley-faced, kettle-headed people.  Particularly children.

Helen Bannerman, probably most infamous for her children's tale "Little Black Sambo," penned "Little Kettle-Head," a parable in a similar vein to Slovenly Betsy, about a little girl who "was very fond of poking fires."  Our little pyromaniac's uppance comes when she pokes one fire too many and burns her little head off. 

A quick-thinking servant replaces her head with a kettle and even draws a little smiley face on it so her parents won't suspect a thing.  Poor little Kettle-head can't talk anymore; she can only make the noise "Clip - clap - clapper - apper apper."  Her parents, of course, simply scold her for this.

Luckily, when Father Christmas comes that very night, he notices her strange head and leaves her a gift-- the decapitated head of a doll whose body has already been "chopped into little bits."  So, Mombi-style, little Kettle-head plops the doll's head on her burnt stump of a neck and the next day her parents remark favorably on her new good looks.  Of course, she's now stuck having a doll's head for the rest of her life, but, as the story assures us, she never got near fires again, "and that is how her head has never been burned off again." 

Lesson learned:
Burning your entire head off is worth it if it ultimately makes you prettier.

Bannerman, Helen.  "The Story of Little Kettle-Head."  New York: Stokes, 1904.
Read the full story here.


  1. Little Kettle-Head was one of the stories included in the Jumbo Sambo book which I had as a child. It was a ghastly story with grisly illustrations (by Helen Bannerman), including the little girl burning her head off. It freaked me out when I was little and gave me nightmares, and it still creeps me out to think about it. I wish I had never read it, because those pictures have stayed in my mind forever.

  2. I've always loved this story! It never gave me nightmares as a child, but gave me a healthy respect for fire...I was afraid of striking a match until I was in Middle School. Lesson learned without injury! Also, in my version, the kettle used was an upside-down tea kettle with the spout for the nose(she didn't stand on it, she reached up to poke the fire--that's what made it dangerous).

  3. I was also in love with this book as a child. When she tried to replace her own head with the dolls head and sat at the table with her family, and no one even noticed that it wasn’t her head..I understood her completely.

  4. I checked the Jumbo Sambo out of the library too many times as a girl...always only for Kettlehead. I guess that is why I became a Stephen King and every other kind of horror fan. I even bought my own Jumbo Sambo as an adult.