Image of Johanna Spyri


Lifetime: 1827 - 1901 Passed: ≈ 122 years ago


Short story writer, Novelist



Johanna Spyri

Johanna Louise Spyri was a Swiss author of novels, notably children's stories, and is best known for her book Heidi. Born in Hirzel, a rural area in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, as a child she spent several summers near Chur in Graubünden, the setting she later would use in her novels.

In 1852, Johanna Heusser married Bernhard Spyri. Bernhard was a lawyer. Whilst living in the city of Zürich she began to write about life in the country. Her first story, A Leaf on Vrony's Grave, which deals with a woman's life of domestic violence, was published in 1880; the following year further stories for both adults and children appeared, among them the novel Heidi, which she wrote in four weeks. Heidi tells the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, and is famous for its vivid portrayal of the landscape.

Her husband and her only child, both named Bernhard, both died in 1884. Alone, she devoted herself to charitable causes and wrote over fifty more stories before her death in 1901. She was interred in the family plot at the Sihlfeld-A Cemetery in Zürich. An icon in Switzerland, Spyri's portrait was placed on a postage stamp in 1951 and on a 20 CHF commemorative coin in 2009.

In April 2010 a professor searching for children's illustrations found a book written in 1830 by a German history teacher, Hermann Adam von Kamp that Spyri may have used as a basis for Heidi. The 1830 story is titled Adelheide - das Mädchen vom Alpengebirge—translated, "Adelaide, the girl from the Alps". The two stories were alleged to share many similarities in plot line and imagery. Spyri biographer Regine Schindler said it was entirely possible that Johanna may have been familiar with the story as she grew up in a literate household with many books. However, the professor's claims have been examined and afterwards described as "un-scientific", due to 'superficial coincidences' he brings up in descriptions and the many actual differences in the story, that he doesn't, as well as the "Swiss disease" of homesickness already being a common trope in fiction in the eighteenth (nineteenth in the article) century (as well as, while not mentioned in the article, it being discovered before von Kamp was even born) and characters that are either drastically different or not in "Adelaide", at all.

Books by Johanna Spyri

Heidi Cover image


Fiction Novel
Children's Literature Kids

Filled with descriptions of the magnificent Swiss Alps, the lives of the simple country folk who live in their picturesque peaks and valleys and the gentle and innocent days of childhood, Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a book that no child should miss rea...

Moni the Goat-Boy Cover image

Moni the Goat-Boy

Animal Children's Literature

Moni is the goat boy who takes care of all the goats belonging to the people of Fideris, Switzerland. He loves to sing, yodel, and whistle while he romps with the goats all day long on the mountains. His favorite is a young kid named Mäggerli. One da...

Veronica  Cover image


Children Tragedy Children's Literature Moral Family Life

Published in 1886, this novel encompasses a small community wherein Veronica, having lost her own mother, is “adopted” by a neighbour, Gertrude, who has a son of her own. The son, Dietrich, is learning how to become a saddler as his father before him...

Toni, the Little Woodcarver Cover image

Toni, the Little Woodcarver

Adventure Fiction Fairy Tale
Dream Children Creativity Historical Fiction Tradition Art Ambition Inspirational Expectation Sorrow Woodworking

Amidst the rolling hills and towering evergreens, young Toni embarks on an extraordinary journey that will shape his destiny. With nimble fingers and a heart bursting with dreams, he discovers an extraordinary talent hidden within—a gift for transfor...

Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre Cover image

Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre

Im Jahre 1880 im Perthes-Verlag, Gotha, erschienenen ersten Heidi-Roman wird erzählt, wie das Waisenmädchen Heidi zu seinem einsiedlerischen Grossvater auf eine Alp oberhalb von Maienfeld (Kanton Graubünden) gebracht wird, wo es in Zukunft leben soll...

Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat Cover image

Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat

Heidi ist zurückgekehrt zum Alpöhi. Der ist darüber so froh, dass er nach Jahrzehnten zum ersten Mal wieder die Kirche im Dörfli aufsucht, worüber die Dorfbewohner erstaunt, aber erfreut sind. Er setzt sein Haus im Dörfli wieder instand, damit Heidi...

Heidi, une histoire pour les enfants et pour ceux qui les aiment Cover image

Heidi, une histoire pour les enfants et pour ceux qui les aiment

Une petite fille orpheline, Heidi, est amenée par sa tante chez son grand-père qui habite isolé sur l’Alpe, loin des hommes. Celui-ci a la réputation d’être féroce auprès des gens du village mais Heidi l’apprivoise et commence une vie profondément he...

Heimatlos - Geschichten für Kinder und auch für solche, welche die Kinder lieb haben Cover image

Heimatlos - Geschichten für Kinder und auch für solche, welche die Kinder lieb haben

Ihr erstes Kinderbuch «Heimathlos» enthielt die Erzählungen «Am Silser- und am Gardasee» und «Wie Wiseli’s Weg gefunden wird» und erschien 1878 bei F. A. Perthes in Gotha. Als Autorin war nicht Johanna Spyri angegeben, sondern „Von der Verfasserin vo...

Maezli Cover image


"Mäzli" may be pronounced the most natural and one of the most entertaining of Madame Spyri's creations. The atmosphere is created by an old Swiss castle and by the romantic associations of the noble family who lived there. Plot interest is supplied...

What Sami Sings With The Birds Cover image

What Sami Sings With The Birds

Old Mary Ann has done her best to bring up her son on her own. Like other relatives, her son has a longing to travel off over the mountains. Mary Ann goes with him. Later on her son marries, but loses his wife after she gives birth to their son. Mary...

Rose Child Cover image

Rose Child

The story of a little girl in the village of Wildbach, who loved the roses, and how spreading both her roses and her love touched the hearts of the villagers. (Summary by Daryl Wor)

Cornelli Cover image


Cornelli lives in Iller-Stream with her widowed father, who calls on two Ladies of Culture to come spend time with Cornelli during one of his business trips, hoping that their influence will refine and improve his daughter. Instead, the ladies prove...

Little Miss Grasshopper Cover image

Little Miss Grasshopper

The Feland family go on a holiday in Switzerland. While there, their impulsive younger daughter gets into a scrape that teaches the whole family a lesson in love and faith. Summary by Devorah Allen.

Vinzi: A Story of the Swiss Alps Cover image

Vinzi: A Story of the Swiss Alps

At 12 years old, Vinzi's only desire is to study his beloved music. But his father wants to make a farmer of him, and is displeased whenever he finds Vinzi yielding to his musical inclination. Mother and sister look on wistfully as circumstances go b...

Mäzli: A Story of the Swiss Valleys Cover image

Mäzli: A Story of the Swiss Valleys

Join Mäzli the youngest of five while she befriends the castle steward and brings a happy reunion between a rich, sad, old baron and his niece and nephew. (Summary by Henrietta Strauss)