“Heidi” is one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time, but I’d wager that more people are familiar with it through the movies than they are from reading the actual book. While the movies are great and I enjoy watching them, I think you haven’t really experienced “Heidi” until you’ve read the book.
Heidi is an orphan who has been raised by her aunt Dete. When Dete is offered a job that won’t allow her to have Heidi along, she decides it’s time for someone else to take over the task of looking after the child. Heidi’s grandfather lives in the Alps of Switzerland, and so that is where they head.
Grandfather has been living alone on his mountain for many years with only his two goats for company. He looks mean and acts gruff, and everyone is afraid of him. But Heidi is only five, and she hasn’t learned yet what it means to be afraid. When Dete shows up unexpectedly with a child in tow, Grandfather tries to intimidate them as well. But Heidi will not be intimidated, and it’s only a matter of time before Grandfather softens to her.
But then Dete is back, wanting to take Heidi away again. A rich family in Frankfurt wants a companion for their daughter, and they have offered Dete a reward for finding one. She takes Heidi away without Grandfather’s knowledge, and places her in the home of Clara, a girl who has been an invalid for so long, she has lost the use of her legs. Heidi’s warmth and vitality soon cheer Clara up, and eventually, Heidi even helps her learn how to walk again. But the happy ending doesn’t come until Heidi and Grandfather are reunited.
This is the basic story you can find in any of the movies, but the real magic of the book comes in the descriptions of the goats, characters, and relationships. Peter’s grandmother is a wonderful woman who teaches Heidi a great deal, but she’s always passed over in the films. The book gives us a close-up look at the work and care that goes into keeping goats, and we also get more insights into Grandfather and his behavior.
And, while you’re reading, you can see the Alps right in front of you. The passages describing the scenery, the fresh air, the green grass, are so well done, you feel as though you’ve stepped through the pages into Switzerland. I’ve immersed myself in those pages time and time again, and still long to go back for more.
So, use the movies as a supplement, but to truly enjoy this classic tale, make sure to read the book, regardless of your age. It’s not just a story for children.