Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Swiss Family Robinson

Even if you don't remember reading The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Wyss, you probably remember seeing the movie. My daughter and I recently read the Great Illustrated Classic version, adapted by Eliza Gatewood Warren, for our neighborhood book club, and I was surprised by how much the book focuses on God's provision.

When the Robinson family is shipwrecked on their way from Switzerland to New Guinea, they realize they must rely on God to save and sustain them. At the very beginning, their ship is in a fierce storm and the crew deserts them. Their father, a preacher, tells them "God will save us for nothing is impossible to him," and leads them in a prayer. He and his wife, Elizabeth, keep a prayerful watch through the night and wait for the storm to abate.

Before long, the family is on shore and exploring a deserted island full of amazing animals, charming locations, and hidden dangers. They tame and ride ostriches, donkeys, and buffalo. They train an eagle to hunt, and a monkey to collect figs, and they raise chickens, angora rabbits, a whole menagerie of livestock. They also build a summer home in a tree house, and a winter dwelling in a cave. Various family members survive encounters with quicksand, boa constrictors, and rough seas. Through all their adventures, the family never forgets to thank God for their safety and food.

After ten years, they find a shipwrecked girl disguising herself as a sailor on the other side of the island. Soon after Emily joins the family, a British ship, sent by Emily's father, arrives to bring her home. Some of the sailors decide to stay with the Robinsons and live on the island, and two of the Robinson boys return to England on the ship.

The book includes heavy ink drawings with captions from the text on the right side of every spread.

What I Like: I really enjoyed reading this book. The family has adventure after adventure, but God is always with them. I had forgotten how much I liked this book as a child. I remember pretending to catch turtle eggs, and dreaming of living in a giant tree house. My daughter's imagination was captivated by the book as well.

I also like how strong the father is. He is a great storyteller, a resourceful leader, and he acknowledges God throughout the book. On the two-year anniversary of the shipwreck, he organizes a holiday to celebrate "how good God has been to us."

I was impressed with the Great Illustrated Classic version. The original language is rather old-fashioned and difficult, but this adaptation is written in more simple English, with drawings to support the text. This makes it perfect to read aloud to younger children. It also would be an engaging read for older, reluctant readers.

What I Dislike: My daughter noted, and I agree, lots of animals die. The boys tend to shoot first and examine later, so many exotic creatures we would typically see in zoos get shot. (A kangaroo, tortoise, walrus, and flamingo, to name a few.)

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: Publisher lists 9-12, but I would say children as young as 5 would be interested, as well as high school students.

Publisher Info: ABDO Publishing Company, 2002; ISBN:1-57765-801-9 ; Hardcover, $21.35

Buy it at for $16.65.

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1 comment:

Palmettos and Pigtails said...

Hi there! Thanks so much for your detailed review. After visiting the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Disneyworld this summer, my 6 year old daughter {who is an avid reader}, is now interested in reading the book. I only saw a movie as a teen and don't remember much about it, let alone if it would be appropriate for a child to read/see. Your review was super helpful, especially about the killing of the animals...she's a sensitive soul, so I'm sure this will bother her too!

It's very difficult finding "chapter" books that are appropriate for a 6 year old. Most books on her reading level deal with teenage peer pressure, and coming of age scenarios. I can't wait to review some of your other "Chapter" books that may be appropriate for her!