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Children’s Books of Switzerland

Author Kevin Shortsleeve
Air Date 8/4/2003

Children’s Books of Switzerland Transcript

Switzerland is home to a rich tradition of children’s literature. The Swiss, in fact, invented the annual, a gift of engravings and verses that were given to children on the New Year. In the old days it was a tradition in Zurich that children be sent with a few pieces of gold to pay the New Years tax. In 1645, Swiss parents designed a copperplate engraving of verses, which was given as a gift to the children once they had performed this task. The tradition went on from year to year and the Swiss annual eventually became an illustrated booklet that was both instructive and amusing.

Like Germany, Switzerland has “rich traditions” of fairy and folk tales, most famous among them is the Legend of William Tell. The story of William Tell–of the apple placed on top of his son’s head that Tell was forced to shoot with an arrow–of his escape from, and ambush of, the evil Governor-is a tale that symbolized the struggle for political and individual freedom going on in Switzerland during the 14th century. It is not known whether or not William Tell was a real person, but a historical account of his deeds was published in 1734, a play was produced in 1804 and in 1846, and the legend was firmly established in the form of a children book by Jeremias Gotthelf.

Two other famous children’s books that were written in Switzerland in the 1800s were Johann Wyss’ Swiss FamilyRobinson, published in 1812, and Johanna Spyri’s 1881 novel, Heidi, a book written to raise funds for refuges from the Franco-Prussian War. High quality publishing for children continued into the 20th century with Heidi-like boy-books by Niklaus Bolt, and another Swiss classic Max Voegli’s The Wonderful Lamp about a boy who finds Aladdin’s lamp. Modern picture books include Etienne Delessert ‘s yok yok books about a comic little man and Jorg Muller’s The Bear Who Wanted to Stay a Bear, a haunting tale about a bear that accidentally becomes a worker in a factory.

Every August 1, the Swiss celebrate their more than 700-year old democracy, with get-togethers and bonfires. Standing in one of the valleys, surrounded by towering Alps, one can look up into the hills on the evening of August 1st and see these fires dotting the hillsides and watch as fireworks displays cascade down the mountain sides from various villages perched up and down the length of the valleys. Such vistas inspire toasts to William Tell, and the mountains from which so many great tales have been born.

Posted in Literature