When a family are shipwrecked on a desert island they must rely on their knowledge, hard work and faith to survive.
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During a terrible storm a family are accidentally abandoned on a ship by the fleeing crew. William and his wife Elisabeth, along with their four sons, Fritz, Ernest, James and Francis must remain on the stricken vessel. In the morning the storm has cleared and they give thanks to God for their survival and the proximity of land. They collect anything they can use from the ship, build a raft and head for land, where they hunt for food and make a tent out of the ship's sails.
In the following days the family hunt, explore, acquire a baby monkey as a pet and are attacked by jackals which are driven off by their dogs. Fritz and William also return to the boat to collect whatever else useful they can still salvage, including the farm animals that were on board. In their absence, Elisabeth and the younger children have explored further and found an ideal place for a tree house for them.
Work begins on the treehouse, which they call Falcon-nest, and they move up into the branches as soon as possible for safety. Work only stops for the Sabbath when the family entertain themselves and continue to find new animals and plants. On another trip to the wreck Fritz captures a turtle which he uses to pull the raft . They find potatoes which they plant along with many other seeds. They also salvage a small boat called a pinnace.
The family continues to work on improving their lives on the island, making bread and butter, farming and hunting, exploring and discovering new animals and plants. After one last trip to the wreck William blows it up to facilitate the salvage of its timbers. They make candles, India-rubber shoes, flax and bee hives. They train their animals, even getting the monkey to carry a rucksack.
But the family has a more pressing problem; winter is coming and they cannot stay in their treehouse through the cold weather. Fortunately they discover a natural cave which they name Rock-house and begin to adapt it to their needs, dividing it up into rooms.
The family expand their island realm, building a pirogue (another type of boat) and setting up various dwellings so they can always have somewhere to stay when they travel. They also continue to discover an extraordinary variety of animals from all over the world from kangaroos to ostriches. But the island is not without dangers. One of their dogs is killed by a lioness, and when out sailing the pirogue is caught in a storm and they fear for Fritz who was going ahead in his kayak. Thankfully they are all saved.
On a short excursion Fritz knocks down an albatross and finds a message tied to its leg from a girl shipwrecked on a volcanic island begging for help, he determines to find her, setting off alone in his kayak. His mission is successful and Miss Jenny is accepted into the family as a daughter by William and Elisabeth.
Finally an English Frigate arrives at the island and the family is rescued from the island which they are given leave to name New Switzerland. But, now they are connected to the rest of the world, the family decides to stay, with the exception of Fritz who goes with Jenny to England to get her father's consent to marry her.
The episodic nature of The Swiss Family Robinson is because it's author Johann David Wyss intended it to be instructional. The chapters teach children about plants and animals (hence the impossible variety found on the island) as well as traditional Christian values.
Best part of story, including ending:
When I was a kid I loved the idea of surviving on a island like this. Particularly the treehouse.
Best scene in story:
I still think anything involving the giant treehouse is wonderful.
Opinion about the main character:
Although he is a bit of a know-it all, William's love for his family and ability to get them through any situation makes him an engaging character.