Heidi, Johanna Spyri
First Published 1880
Most of us are no doubt familiar with at least some aspects of the plot of this iconic Children’s Classic. Heidi is the story of a young orphan girl who is brought to live with her reclusive grandfather on his farm high in the Swiss Alps. Here she sleeps on a bed of fresh hay, drinks fresh goat’s milk, tends the animals, wanders the mountainside with Peter the goat-herd, and relishes her natural surroundings. Heidi quickly bonds with her grandfather, and begins to break down the walls he has built up around his heart. Her optimism, curiosity, and warm nature bring joy to all those she comes into contact with, including Peter’s blind grandmother.
Yet, this idyllic childhood on the mountainside does not last, and Heidi is sent to Frankfurt to serve as a companion to a wealthy invalid girl named Clara, and to be educated alongside her in the schoolroom. However, Heidi does not understand city life nor what is expected of her in “polite society”. She misses her grandfather terribly, can’t comprehend why she can no longer see the stars or the mountaintops, worries about Peter’s grandmother, and is so homesick she cries herself to sleep. But the friendships and knowledge she gains in this unhappy period go on to enrich her and her grandfather’s lives once she is returned home again.
I was pleased to have this as my latest Classics Club spin pick. Although I never read the book as a child, I do have fond memories of watching the movie and miniseries versions. That said, there were still plenty of differences and surprises to discover in the text.
This is a very sweet story, but I never found it to be too cloying or saccharine. It was also much funnier in parts than I had expected; I especially loved the servants and all the chaos Heidi caused while staying in Frankfurt.
Heidi is an easy read and fairly fast-paced. There is no high-stakes drama, however the story progresses at a steady rate and is never dull. The writing is simple yet engaging, but it is definitely the characters and setting that shine here. The descriptions of the Swiss Alps are lovely. It’s a book that makes you want to climb a mountain, pick some wildflowers, and take in the fresh air. It will also make you want to consume all of the dairy products you can get your hands on.
More than a century after its publication, there is still much we can gain from Heidi. It’s message of the importance of family, nature, community, and living a simple life are just as relevant today. And we could all certainly use a dose of its optimism and cheer.
My reading experience was made even more enjoyable thanks to this gorgeous Puffin in Bloom edition. The cheerful cover, adorable endpapers, and sweet illustrations added to the story’s charm. Reading Heidi was a lovely way to spend a spring afternoon, and it left me in an even brighter mood.
I can’t help but wish I had read this charming classic as a child, but I’m very happy to be able to check it off my list now. It’s a heartwarming story and an enjoyable read at any age.