Saturday, 7 December 2013

Heidi (Johanna Spyri)

--The blurb--
"the orphan child, Heidi, is sent to live with her embittered grandfather high in the Swiss Alps. Heidi's innocent joy of life and genuine concern and love for all living things become the old man's salvation. From the goatherder Peter and his family to the sickly girl Clara and her desperate father, Heidi's special charm enriches everyone she meets. Unselfish to the core, Heidi's goodness overcomes all obstacles - even those seemingly insurmountable."

--The review--
In the midst of work by modern children's authors such as JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Rick Riordan, it's easy to forget the classic works that appeal to children generation after generation. 

Heidi is one such classic work, and in some ways it's easy to see why children pass it up in favour of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson. It's not the traditional setting that's off-putting, but the strong religious values that Spyri presents in Heidi are not going to hold the same universal appeal as they did at the time of publication in 1880. Some adults reading it to their children may also find it a little twee - but this is arguably going to be of less concern to the target audience, and Enid Blyton regularly draws the same criticism.

However, the enjoyable aspects of Heidi outweigh the more dated elements, and make it clear why it is one of the best-selling books ever written. Beautifully-described landscapes gradually stretch children's vocabulary skills and the power of imagination, while simple yet powerful characters stick in the mind and drive the plot forward in a concise and energetic manner. 

People of all ages are able to relate to the emotions expressed in Heidi, whether it's jealousy, anger, happiness or hope. Furthermore, the basic messages of the story can be taken as universal truths, and while some may be irritated by this didacticism, others may find it comforting, and a good basis for children's literature.

It therefore seems reasonable that while the works of JK Rowling et al continue to proliferate, there is no reason why works by classic children's authors such as E Nesbit, Susan Coolidge and Johanna Spyri cannot be enjoyed alongside them. Heidi is ultimately a joyful book containing many useful lessons about friendship, family and hope that deserves to be enjoyed still for many years to come.

A list of Johanna Spyri's other works can be consulted here.

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