The Swiss Family Robinson

2018 Classics Challenge #1- A 19th Century Classic

The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann David Wyss


I love books about wilderness survival- whether they are those pocket handbooks or stories such as My Side of the Mountain and Island of the Blue Dolphins.  So I always suspected that I’d enjoy The Swiss Family Robinson.  Although I did like the book, it was not what I was expecting.

  Ernest had already accumulated sundry stuffed animals, shells, pebbles, corals, and other natural curiosities.  This he called his museum, and here the serpent was placed erect, a memento of our escape from a great danger.  It was so natural and lifelike that the dogs never passed it without growling.

I must get this out of the way now and confess that The Swiss Family Robinson is not the most thrilling book I’ve read.  Although dangers do arise, they are dealt with and forgotten so swiftly that they don’t much impact the story.  The books is written less in the style of a novel, and more so in the style of a notebook.  I realise this is on purpose, but it makes things a tad dry.

  ‘One morning, soon after the incidents just narrated, I discovered, from various allusions, that the boys were meditating an excursion of their own.  To this I conceived no reasonable objection could be offered, for an occasional change of occupation was advantageous to all of us. I accordingly expressed my approbation of the project so soon as it was explained to me.’

On the other hand, the more I read the more I found that this would make a fantastic book to add to a homeschooler’s curricula! The Swiss Family Robinson is packed with details about exotic flora and fauna.  Some of these I had not heard of, and was prompted to do research.  There are so many potential research topics and experiment ideas within this book- an industrious homeschooling family could perhaps go through it and pick a project or two per chapter.  Even the dry style can be an opportunity for some English practice- have the kids re-write a scene using a different point of view, perhaps?

’Look, papa!’ he exclaimed, pointing to a cluster of tall trees, ‘I believe these are caotchouc trees, and that this is indiarubber.’ ‘That would be indeed a valuable discovery,’ I replied.  ‘Why, what use can be made of indiarubber except to remove pencil-marks?’ ‘The sap of the caotchouch tree,’ I answered, ‘will be of great service to us.  From this gum we shall be able to make bottles, and many useful articles- and, besides, I have a plan in view for shoemaking!’

The Robinson’s themselves are the definitive homeschool family.  They have a regular zoo of odd animals outside, and a home-made museum inside; they make everything themselves, and hold devotions together.  They reminded me of several families- even my own.    I felt I was among friends.

  “We did so, and as we went along I often tasted my cane; Fritz tried to do the same, but found he could not extract any juice.  ‘How is this, father?’ he said.  ‘Think a little,’ I replied, and I am sure you will find the reason; you do not yet employ the right means.’  He soon discovered that he must make a small hole above the first knot of his cane to let in the air.  This done, he was able to refresh himself as much as he wished with the delicious beverage”- finding sugar cane


2 thoughts on “The Swiss Family Robinson

  1. Haha, the definitive homeschool family, eh? I shall have to give this book another try, then! I started it a looong time ago, and was slowly enjoying it…but as you pointed out, the exciting parts don’t really build up into a streamlined story, so I think that’s why I lost interest.


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