You can read The Swiss Family Robinson for free online, thanks to Project Gutenberg, a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works founded in 1971, that is now the world’s oldest digital library. Pick out your format and read the book here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3836.
If you’re like virtually every other TIPster (and their family) today, chances are very good that you are stuck at home indefinitely, isolated with your family as the world figures out the best way to deal with COVID-19. You may be fighting with your little brother over leaving you alone—or racing to grab the last juice box in the refrigerator, or wondering when your mom is going to get off her conference call and make you a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.
But what if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island with your family two hundred years ago, with no electronic devices, not even electricity, to help you survive? There’s no way to contact the world, all you have is each other, and your resources are limited to what you salvaged from the ship, or what you can find on or near the island. What would you do?
Join us on an adventure of the imagination called Swiss Family Robinson, then share your ideas with us using the questions that follow and the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you! Besides, imagining your family stuck on a remote island, with no food or entertainment in sight, might help you appreciate what you have at home right now, little brother and all!
Step One: Read Swiss Family Robinson, written in 1812 by Johann David Wyss.
Step Two: Review the plot summary below.
The book opens with a Swiss family named Robinson huddled in the hold of a sailing ship, trying to survive a great storm. When the ship’s crew abandons the ship without the Robinson family, the parents, William and Elizabeth, and their four children (Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Franz) must learn to survive on their own. When the long, stormy night is finally over, the family spots a tropical desert island on the other side of a nearby reef. They construct a vessel out of tubs and fill the tubs with all the supplies they can carry with them. Then, they row toward the island, two dogs from the ship named Turk and Juno swimming beside them. The ship’s cargo of a cow, a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram, a pig, chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons—plus guns and powder, carpentry tools, books, a disassembled pinnace, and food provisions—all make it the island with them.
Once on the island, the family sets up camp and sets off to explore their new home, sometimes making trips back to the ship to bring everything useful from the vessel ashore. They score hammocks, cooking utensils, silverware, and dishes for the giant treehouse they have built, though eventually they move to a cave after the mother injures herself climbing the treehouse’s stairs. They settle in a more permanent dwelling in part of a cave.
Over the next ten years on the island, one of the brothers, Fritz, meets a young Englishwoman named Jenny Montrose who is shipwrecked elsewhere on their island. Meanwhile, the family explores the different environments they find on the island and end up building homes and planting gardens in various locations. The family begins to wonder if they will ever again see other people. Eventually, a British ship in search of Jenny Montrose anchors near the island and is discovered by the Robinson family. The captain receives the journal containing the story of their lives on the island to be published eventually. Several members of the family choose to stay on the island in tranquility while several family members choose to return to Europe on the British ship.
Step 3: Answer the questions below, using your imagination and best judgment.
Feel free to share your answers in the comments below.
- When the Robinson family’s ship runs aground on the rocks, all of the sailors abandon the ship and leave the Robinsons behind. What would YOU have done if you had been a crew member and this happened to you?
- This book was written a long time ago, before animal rights and conservation concerns even existed. What does the family do, especially Fritz, that people might object to today? What would you have done differently?
- What do you think about Fritz anyway? Is he a hero? Does he need to chill out? What advice would you give to Fritz if you were his friend?
- Have you ever wanted to live in a treehouse? Do you already have a treehouse? Describe the kind of treehouse you would want to live in, or how you would improve yours.
- The Robinson family puts all sorts of objects found on the island to good use, including porcupine quills, coconuts, animal hides, and a turtle. How would you have used those objects? What would you have invented? Are there other inventions you would have made using materials and objects found on the island or from the ship?
- Join the debate: how do you think of the mother’s leadership skills compared to the father’s? Which kind of leader would you be in a situation like this? What would YOU have done first and at various points in the book if you had been leading the Robinson family?
- What do you think became of all the family members when they returned to the outside world or stayed behind? Use your imagination and tell us what the future held for your favorites!