The beautiful illustrations by Donna Pacinelli are from the much beloved classic Heidi by Johanna Spyri published in 1990 by Unicorn Press.
"Heidi" is a delightful story for children of life in the Alps, one of many tales written by the Swiss authoress, Johanna Spyri, who died in her home at Zurich in 1891. She had been well known to the younger readers of her own country since 1880, when she published her story, Heimathlos, which ran into three or more editions, and which, like her other books, as she states on the title page, was written for those who love children, as well as for the youngsters themselves. Her own sympathy with the instincts and longings of the child's heart is shown in her picture of Heidi. The record of the early life of this Swiss child amid the beauties of her passionately loved mountain-home and during her exile in the great town has been for many years a favorite book of younger readers in Germany and America.
Madame Spyri, like Hans Christian Andersen, had by temperament a peculiar skill in writing the simple histories of an innocent world. In all her stories she shows an underlying desire to preserve children alike from misunderstanding and the mistaken kindness that frequently hinder the happiness and natural development of their lives and characters. The authoress, as we feel in reading her tales, lived among the scenes and people she describes, and the setting of her stories has the charm of the mountain scenery amid which she places her small actors.
Below is a Summary of the Book.
The orphan child Heidi first lives with her aunt Dete, but Dete would like to concentrate on her career. So she brings Heidi to her grandfather, a queer old man living in an alpine cottage far from the next village (he is therefore called Alm-Uncle, Alpöhi or Almöhi in German).
Alm-Uncle is good-hearted but mistrusts anybody and wants to keep the child from all evils of the world. So he refuses to send Heidi to school; instead she goes to the pastures, together with Peter, a shepherd boy looking after the goats (Geissenpeter = goat-Peter in German). This apine idyll finds a sudden end when aunt Dete comes in again and brings Heidi to Frankfurt (Germany) where she shall stay as a companion to Clara, the paralyzed daughter of a rich family.
Thanks to Clara's grandmother, Heidi learns to read but she can't get accustomed to the strict discipline in a bourgeois upper class house (personified by governess Fraulein Rottenmeier). She is very lonesome and gets depressed by the gray anonymous city. Heidi's homesickness causes her to become ill. She starts to walk in her sleep. Miss Rottenmeier is alarmed, not because of the fate of the poor child, but rather because she thinks that there are ghosts in the old house. Finally Clara's father Herr Stresemann and the sympathetic doctor of the family decide to stay up till midnight and find out about the ghosts. When the doctor sees Heidi walking around in her sleep, he diagnoses Heidi correctly and sends her back to the alps.
The following summer, Clara visits Heidi there. They go to the pastures and Heidi shows Clara all the beauty of her world. Peter gets terribly jealous, and in a moment when he feels unobserved, he pushes the empty wheelchair down to the valley so it gets smashed. Clara wants to see the flowers and is forced to walk - and her desire is strong enough that she overcomes her handicap. Healings at body, spirit and soul in that healthy Alpine world - end well, all well.
Heidi: One Interpretation
At first sight, Heidi is an emotional story dealing with primitive fears; the anxiety of the child to be without parents and to be displaced.
Heidi is loved as a child of nature, a symbol for romanticism and lost innocence.
The story reminds readers of the end of the 19th century when authoress Johanna Spyri coming from a peasant village Hirzel am Albis lived in Zurich and shared the feelings of insecurity with thousands of workers displaced by the compulsions of the industrialisation. Moving out of rural Switzerland into modern cities was sort of a "cultural shock" for most of them. Besides they had to struggle hard to find their place, not only economically, but also emotionally.
Johanna Spyri's Heidi-story tries to give orientation in a world shaken by rapid social change, a world in disorder that makes people feel insecure - and this is exactly what makes the story attractive today in view of neoliberalism and globalization.
The foundation on an alpine nature is, however, but one element of the story and one should not have an isolated view on it. Heidi as presented by Johanna Spyri does not return into the alpine world as if she had never been to the metropolitan city - to the contrary: Heidi makes use of what she has learned. Johanna Spyri does not opt for a retreat into a idealized sweet world (as grandfather does in his frustration about mankind), neither for an obstinate keeping to simple views (as Geissenpeter, who is too lazy to learn reading and writing). To the contrary: Johanna Spyri wants to empower people to accept new challenges while keeping a good heart like Heidi, who is able to read stories to Peter's blind grandmother and even moves her unsociable grandfather to return into the village community.