Monday, August 14, 2017

MMGM: The Swiss Family Robinson

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick:

The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Wyss
The Swiss Family Robinson

Written by Johann Wyss
Penguin Puffin, 2009
first English Translation. Godwin, 1814
Ages 10 and up, Lexile 540L
496 pages, 108,000 words

Family, Adventure, Science

For many days we had been tempest-tossed. Six times had the darkness closed over a wild and terrific scene. Returning light as often brought but renewed distress, for the raging storm increased in fury until on the seventh day all hope was lost. We were driven completely out of our course; no conjecture could be formed as to our whereabouts The crew had lost heart, and were utterly exhausted by incessant labour.
       The riven masts had gone by the board. Leaks had been sprung in every direction. The water, which rushed in, gained upon us rapidly. Instead of reckless oaths, the seamen now uttered frantic cries to God for mercy, mingled with strange and often ludicrous vows to be performed should deliverance be granted. Every man on board alternately commended his soul to his Creator and strove to bethink himself by some means of saving his life.
       My heart sank as I looked round upon my family in the midst of these horrors. Our four young sons were overpowered by terror. "Dear children," said I, "if the Lord will, He can save us even from this fearful peril."

The Swiss Family Robinson tells the story of a family of Swiss colonists who get shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island. They salvage wreckage to build homes in various locations on the island, and attempt dozens of experiments to survive. The Robinsons build boats, breed livestock, grind flour, spin flax, excavate caves, and learn blacksmithing. Each new craft is explained in detail along with facts about animals from all parts of the world. The book was written at the dawn of the nineteenth century, so be warned the characters shoot and eat every animal they encounter. They subdue the land in true colonial fashion which some people will find offensive. But at the heart of the book is the story of a family working together to survive the threats and terrors of a wholly alien landscape.

The Swiss Family Robinson was written with the intent to educate the author's children. It has been inspiring admirers and firing the imagination for over two hundred years. I read this book as a child and, being a daughter of the sixties, I dreamed of living in a tree house (still do.) When I reread the book as an adult I found I didn't remember much at all. Whether that was the result of maturity or originally having read a retelling, I cannot say. Honestly, as I pored over the detailed scientific processes, I wondered if the book would interest my children. For insurance I also bought the Educator's Classic Library annotated edition. And while I still recommend the annotated version for its fascinating content, I can wholeheartedly say my children loved reading the book aloud and still enjoy the audiobook version narrated by Frederick Davidson.

Most unabridged editions are from the same translation, but you'll find several different endings, as the author never settled on just one. I normally eschew adaptations, but in this case, as long as it still contains fascinating animal adventures and clever inventions, a retelling may be just the ticket to excite a sense of wonder in a young reader.

You'll find a book-movie comparison on last Friday's Summer Drive-In.

1. The adventures of the Robinsons have been illustrated by a variety of artists over the years. Louis Rhead, Milo Winter, and the author's son, Johann Emannuel Wyss. Cover artists are too many to list.

2. Other MMGM bloggers recommend books with a similar vibe:

Both Reading Nook and Always in the Middle review Shipwreck Island on their respective blogs.
Ms. Yingling recommends the non-fiction finds  Survival and Pirates and Shipwreck.
Michelle Mason suggests The Map to Everywhere.
Reading Violet reviewed the first two books in the Crusoe Adventure Series, Dawn of Spies and Day of Ice.
For contemporary tree house story, That's Another Story suggests The Great Treehouse War.
And for treehouse-related mayhem, Alice Marvels reviews The 13-Story Treehouse.

3. Other island adventure classics include quintessential N. C. Wyeth standards

Robinson Crusoe,
by Daniel Defoe
Treasure Island,
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Contemporary survival stories

Hatchet, by Gary Paulson
Shipwreck, book 1: Island
by Gordon Korman

Stories of adventure
Treasure Hunters series,
by James Patterson
Adventure Island series,
by Helen Moss

View all the Summer Drive-In reviews for 2017.

Check out all the recommended titles for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday for August 14, 2017 available on Shannon Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.

Feel free to leave your MG recommendations in the comments. Thanks!


  1. I've actually never read this book, but I have seen an old Disney movie about it. Your review makes the book sound so much more interesting than I had thought it would be. I'll have to get a copy and read it now.

    1. I reviewed the movie on Friday. It was one of my favs as a kid. I hope the book interests you as much as it did me. Thank-you for reading!


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