Modern adaptations tend to reduce HEIDI to the distastefully saccharine--and as such do a tremendous disservice to Swiss author Johanna Spyri, whose original 1880 novel is a surprisingly sophisticated work founded on a solid plot line and including exceptionally well-rounded characters and memorably rendered descriptions of both the Alpine peasantry and the German aristocracy.
When hardnosed Aunt Dete has the opportunity to secure better employment, she wastes little time in unloading five year old and orphaned Heidi on the child's grandfather, a Swiss peasant whose personal tragedies have led him to a life of isolation in the Alps. Heidi quickly penetrates her grandfather's superficial gruffness; he quickly grows to love the child and she in turn becomes a local favorite. Several years later, however, Dete is motivated by guilt to have second thoughts about the child's welfare, and snatches Heidi from the Alps to become the companion of the wealthy but invalid child Klara, who resides in Frankfurt.
Transported to this alien city so abruptly, Heidi pines for both the Alps and her grandfather even as she comes to love Klara. She also upsets the rigidly ordered household, personified by housekeeper by the unpleasant but comical Miss Rottenmeier. When Klara's sensible grandmother suggests Heidi take her problems to God, the child does precisely that, and after several disappointments discovers that her situation is part of a larger plan that will lead to a greater happiness for all concerned.
HEIDI was written at a time when children were expected to be able to read far beyond the scope of that which we expect of modern children. As a result, it is a children's novel written that is indeed a novel in every sense of the word, including length. It is indeed "wholesome," but in the best sense of the word, and although it is not in the least preachy it works through its story to encourage honesty, intergity, kindness, and an uncomplicated religious faith.
Unfortunately, our own age leans toward such children's literature as the poorly written Goosebumps series and sets up "Bratz" doll imagery as appropriate role models. In light of such, it is a bit difficult to imagine children reading HEIDI by their own choice. Nonetheless, it remains a truly charming work--the sort of reading that parents should encourage but sadly seldom do.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer