Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Heidi

Posted by nliakos on October 21, 2007

by Johanna Spyri

I think Heidi must be my all-time favorite children’s book, at least from those that I actually read as a child. I have three hardcover editions; my most recent acquisition is a Knopf 1987 edition illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (interestingly, the translator is not named).

I don’t know why this story of a young Swiss orphan, her grandfather, the people who dwell on the Alp with her, and those she meets when she is sent to Frankfurt as a companion for a crippled child, appeals to me so much and so consistently; but I love Heidi’s honesty and goodness. Other characters the reader cannot help loving and admiring are Heidi’s grandfather, the Alm-Uncle (or Nuncle, as he is called in one translation); young Clara Sesemann, whom Heidi is sent to Frankfurt to befriend, her father, and her grandmother; and the Frankfurt doctor who helps Heidi return to her beloved home. In addition, the characters of Peter the goatherd; Fraulein Rottenmeier, the Sesemanns’ housekeeper; and Sebastian, the butler are memorably drawn.

My favorite parts include the part where Heidi’s simple trust and intelligence win over her grandfather, who has lived for years isolated from his fellow men; the part where Clara’s Grandmamma persuades Heidi that she can, in fact, learn to read; the part where Heidi’s homesickness gets the better of her and she sleepwalks, frightening the entire household, and especially where the doctor quickly gets to the root of the problem and induces Mr. Sesemann to send her back to her grandfather; and the doctor’s and Clara’s visits to the Alm. I read and reread these and other favorite parts, never tiring of them, always finding tears in my eyes at the same moments.

I also love the descriptions of the natural beauty of the Alps and the mountain meadow where Heidi and Peter go with the goats; the mountains, plants, and animals are lovingly described. It is this natural beauty that Heidi misses in Frankfurt, as much as she misses her grandfather. Shut up in a big city house, unable to see the sky or hear the wind in the trees, served fancy food instead of the wholesome goat’s milk, cheese, and bread she was accustomed to, she actually begins to wither like a plant deprived of light and water.

When Vicki was young, I purchased the Shirley Temple movie for her, and when we began watching it together, I was delighted to see the beginning of the story unfolding exactly as it is told in the book. Imagine my horror when the movie soon diverged so completely from the story as to be unrecognizable. In the movie, Fraulein Rottenmeier, instead of the vain, foolish woman portrayed in the book, is frankly evil, bent on selling Heidi to the gypsies, and Heidi’s grandfather travels to Frankfurt and rescues Heidi in a ridiculous carriage chase through the snowy streets. I wondered, why invent such absurdities when the story is so satisfying as originally told? Despite its moralistic tone and old-fashioned piety, Heidi is a timeless treasure of children’s literature.

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