What’s the best translation of Heidi?

“Which English translation of Heidi should I read?”

Written in German by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, Heidi was originally published in two parts:

  • 1880 – Heidi: Her Years of Wandering and Learning (Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre)
  • 1881 – Heidi: How She Used What She Learned (Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat)

The book takes its name from the name of the main character. According to this baby name site, “Heidi is a girl’s name and the Swiss pet form of the Germanic Adelheid. Adelheid is derived from the words adal, ‘noble,’ and heid, ‘kind, type,’ which combine to form ‘nobility’ or ‘the noble one.’ ”

Heidi: translations in English

There have been 14 translations in total, with translators often unnamed. The first 10 translations are in the public domain, 8 are available online, and 3 are still being reprinted. Of the remaining 4 translations, 1 is out of print.

  1. 1882 – Anonymous
  2. 1884 – Louise Brooks
  3. 1899 – Helen B. Dole
  4. 1901 – H.A. Melcon
  5. 1902 – Helene S. White
  6. 1910 – Marian Edwardes
  7. 1915 – Elisabeth P. Stork
  8. 1916 – Mabel Abbott
  9. 1922 – Philip Schuyler Allen
  10. 1925 – Shirley Watkins
  11. 1954 – M. Rosenbaum (HarperCollins)
  12. 1956 – Eileen Hall (Penguin)
  13. 1959 – Joy Law
  14. 2017 – Peter James Bowman (Alma)

I have taken the list provided in the excellent article by Susan Stan to be comprehensive, at least as far as unabridged translations are concerned, and added the 2017 translation, which didn’t exist when she was writing.

New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship: “Heidi in English: A Bibliographic Study” by Susan Stan
“By now [2010], most translations are in the public domain, and as a result, a few are reprinted again and again by different publishers, often with new illustrations, introductions, and covers but seldom with a translation credit…. This publishing history makes it difficult to sort out the paths each translation took as it was edited, adapted, and amended to suit current tastes….  Many of the translations that now languish in libraries and used bookstores were tied to the fate of their publishing firms and either died with them or were lost in the shuffle as smaller firms merged with larger ones. Yet, with so many of these translations in the public domain, contemporary publishers who choose to bring out new editions of Heidi still turn to Edwardes’ 1910 translation, perhaps because it is the most readily at hand.”

Heidi: Timeless world classic for readers of all ages

From the introduction by Nathan Haskell Dole to the Helen B. Dole translation:
“[N]ot one of the few great books—the so-called classics for the young—appeals more strongly to those for whom they were written than to their elders. This is certainly the case with ‘Heidi,’ which a healthy appetite will not find cloying even after many readings.”

From the afterword by Peter Glassman to the Edwardes translation:
“’Heidi’ successfully combines many now-classic story elements that first became popular during the late Victorian period, in which children’s novels blossomed…. Perhaps what makes ‘Heidi’ most memorable is that it is ultimately a book about healing. Though in many Victorian children’s books a child’s innocence and goodness rehabilitate the adults around them, in ‘Heidi’ nearly every character—child and adult alike—is healed in either body or spirit through the kindness of others. More important, those who are helped bring healing in turn to others, and those who bring the healing are healed themselves.”

The story of Heidi has been recognized by UNESCO as globally significant and thus in 2023 was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

1882 · Anonymous · Heidi

About the anonymous translation of Heidi

It was produced in two volumes titled “Heidi’s Early Experiences” and “Heidi’s Further Experiences.” Susan Stan’s article has more details on the publishing arrangement.

This edition is now extremely rare. I can only find one on the whole internet:

Abebooks current listing for the first English edition of Heidi ~US$15,000

There are details about another copy, but this one sold years ago:

Christie’s 2005 auction listing for the first English edition of Heidi (sold for GBP 3,360)
“RARE FIRST ENGLISH EDITIONS, not in the British Library, not in the Allison-Shelley Collection of German Literature in Translation at Penn State, apparently no copies recorded in German Union Catalogues, and no copy has been sold at auction in over 30 years.” Maybe Penn State bought this one, because in 2010 Susan Stan wrote that they had a copy.

1884 · Louise Brooks · Heidi

About the Brooks version of Heidi

In 2010, Susan Stan highlighted this translation as one of the few that had survived in print, and mentions an attractive edition containing illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, but I was not able to find any current editions containing the Brooks version. I found two editions containing illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, but they are reprints of the Edwardes translation, not the Brooks translation.

Among out-of-print editions, there’s a Shirley Temple movie tie-in version, an International Collector’s Library edition, a Junior Deluxe Edition with illustrations by Roberta McDonald, and (if you have deep pockets) some 1885 reprints showing a branch from an evergreen stamped on the cover.

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1899 · Helen B. Dole · Heidi

About the Dole version of Heidi

It was translated from the 13th German edition.

Author/editor/translator Nathan Haskell Dole, Helen’s husband, wrote the introduction to her translation.

Dole says the writing of the original story is stylistically flawed, but that it is justly considered a classic for the sake of its innocence, pathos, love of nature, and childlike religious spirit. He praises the realism of the description and the vividness of the characterization of not just the human characters but also the goats. “The present translation has been carefully made with the idea of preserving as far as possible the homely simplicity and vivacity of the original, the charm of its absolute sincerity and wholesome humor.”

Tomi Ungerer’s Heidi is out of print and still under copyright, but there are used copies for sale (see below).

Extract from the Dole version of Heidi

Get the Everyman's Library Children's Classics Dole translation of Heidi

Gilt spine, a silk ribbon marker, and 10 full-color illustrations by Austrian artist William Sharp.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781101908136, 384 pages).

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Get the Signature Classics Dole translation of Heidi

Includes black-and-white interior illustrations by Jim Tierney. Online publisher's description does not credit any translator, but the sample from Chapter 3 matches the online Dole translation at Hathi Trust. Some resellers mention that Dole is the translator.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781454948254, 328 pages).

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Get the Dover Evergreen Classics Dole translation of Heidi

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780486412351, 288 pages).

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Get the Tomi Ungerer Dole translation of Heidi

Out of print. Includes illustrations by Tomi Ungerer. With emendations and revisions by John Githens. Susan Stan says “Editions of [the Dole translation of] Heidi with [Tomi] Ungerer's illustrations were published in France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and England between 1979 and 1984.” She says revisions by Githens were slight.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 0385302444, 311 pages).

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Available as a free ebook.

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1901 · H.A. Melcon · Heidi

This translation is out of print.

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Extract from the Melcon version of Heidi

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1902 · Helene S. White · Heidi

Who was Helene S. White?

According to Susan Stan, she translated “numerous” nonfiction works from German to English.

About the White version of Heidi

The 1902 version contains illustrations by an uncredited illustrator. Some reprints contain illustrations by Scottish illustrator Anne Anderson.

This translation is out of print.

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Available as a free ebook.

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1910 · Marian Edwardes · Heidi

Who was Marian Edwardes?

He was a British editor and translator.

About the Edwardes version of Heidi

This translation was published with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, one of the “Red Rose Girls” and a student of Howard Pyle (founder of the Brandywine School), whose work is instantly recognizable as belonging to the “Golden Age” of American illustration alongside N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, among others.

From the afterword by Peter Glassman:
“Smith’s Heidi is exactly as Spyri describes her, and the lush depictions of the majestic Swiss Alps convey their healing magic to the reader. As in all of Smith’s work, the children are especially captivating…. Successfully capturing the powerful magic of the Swiss Alps and the gentle, loving nature of young Heidi, Smith created an edition of ‘Heidi’ that has enchanted readers of all ages for over seventy years and will continue to delight them for many, many more.”

Her illustrations for Heidi are in the public domain.

The 10 internal illustrations (in the edition I inspected) are:

  • “I want to see what you have inside the house,” said Heidi.
  • “You can have that, I have plenty”
  • “Are you the child who lives up with Alm-Uncle, are you Heidi?”
  • “I am never called anything but Heidi”
  • So Heidi had plenty of time from day to day to sit and picture how everything at home was now turning green, and how the yellow flowers were shining in the sun.
  • The moonlight was shining in through the open door and fell on a white figure standing motionless in the doorway
  • The bells were ringing in every direction now, sounding louder and fuller as they neared the valley
  • Down the mountain they shot like two birds darting through the air
  • Heidi introduced each in turn by its name to her friend Clara
  • “Put your foot down firmly once,” suggested Heidi

Reprints containing these illustrations are available from Knickerbocker Classics and Barnes & Noble Children’s Classics (see below). There are also many second-hand copies of books with these illustrations.

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Extract from the Edwardes version of Heidi

Get the Barnes & Noble Children's Collectible Editions (Sterling) Edwardes translation of Heidi

Includes color illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith. Bonded leather cover. No translator is credited, but all the text on page 161 matches the Edwardes text at Gutenberg.org.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781435144668, 344 pages).

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Get the Knickerbocker Classics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Illustrations by Jesse Willcox Smith.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781631062483, 296 pages).

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Get the Macmillan Collector's Library Edwardes translation of Heidi

Includes line-drawn illustrations, and an afterword by editor Marcus Clapham.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781509842926, 328 pages).

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Get the Macmillan Collector's Library Edwardes translation of Heidi

Includes line-drawn illustrations, and an afterword by editor Marcus Clapham.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781509847815).

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Get the Vintage Classics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780099573746, 336 pages).

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Get the Wordsworth Classics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781853261251, 240 pages).

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Get the Oxford Children's Classics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780192743602, 384 pages).

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Get the AmazonClassics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781542049368, 286 pages).

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Get the AmazonClassics Edwardes translation of Heidi

Available as an ebook.

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Get the Hathi Trust Edwardes translation of Heidi

Illustrations by Jesse Willcox Smith.

Available as an ebook.

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Available as a free ebook.

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1915 · Elisabeth P. Stork · Heidi

About the Stork version of Heidi

Author/poet/translator/professor Charles Wharton Stork, Elisabeth’s husband, wrote the introduction to her translation.

Stork begins by saying more or less what Dole said before him: On the one hand, Heidi is “unassuming in plot and style” but is a world classic because of its authenticity, charm, setting, and characterization. He justifies the need for a seventh English translation by saying the previous translations were “conventional,” and implies that they were too literal and thus awkward and indirect. He recommends not translation, but re-creation of the text. Such work requires familiarity with mountains, children, and English, which his wife has, having been born and raised in European mountains, being the parent of a child of Heidi’s age, and having English as a second language. Moreover, the translation was created to be read aloud to children: “Many people say that they read without noticing the author’s style. This is seldom quite true; unconsciously every one is impressed in some way or other by the style of every book, or by its lack of style. Children are particularly sensitive in this respect and should, therefore, as much as is practicable, read only the best. In the new translation of “Heidi” here offered to the public I believe that most readers will notice an especial flavor, that very quality of delight in mountain scenes, in mountain people and in child life generally, which is one of the chief merits of the German original. The phrasing has also been carefully adapted to the purpose of reading aloud—a thing that few translators think of. In conclusion, the author, realising the difference between the two languages, has endeavored to write the story afresh, as Johanna Spyri would have written it had English been her native tongue. How successful the attempt has been the reader will judge.”

Extract from the Stork version of Heidi

Get the Read & Co. Treasures Collection Stork translation of Heidi

Cover by Laura Trinder. Contains author bio.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781528770057, 172 pages).

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Get the Read & Co. Treasures Collection Stork translation of Heidi

Cover by Laura Trinder. Contains author bio.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781528791489, 172 pages).

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Get the Read & Co. Treasures Collection Stork translation of Heidi

Cover by Laura Trinder. Contains author bio.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781528718462).

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Get the HarperCollins Children's Classics Stork translation of Heidi

I checked the online sample text from the publisher. This is the Stork translation.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780008514341, 256 pages).

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Get the StandardEbooks Stork translation of Heidi

Available as a free ebook.

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Get the Gutenberg Stork translation of Heidi

(The StandardEbooks version was made from this version.)

Available as a free ebook.

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1916 · Mabel Abbott · Heidi

Get the Gutenberg Abbott translation of Heidi

Illustrated by Alice Carsey. Text is noticeably condensed compared to other translations.

Available as a free ebook.

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Get the Hathi Trust Abbott translation of Heidi

Illustrated by Alice Carsey. Text is noticeably condensed compared to other translations.

Available as a free ebook.

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1922 · Philip Schuyler Allen · Heidi

Who was Philip Schuyler Allen?

Philip Schuyler Allen was an American professor and translator from German and French to English.

He “translated and arranged” The Three Musketeers and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for the same series, the Windemere Series, a children’s educational series.
More about Allen:

» Rootsweb online biography

About the Allen version of Heidi

Illustrated by Maginel Wright Enright with color plates and black & white drawings.

From Allen’s preface to his translation:
“The present translation has been a labor of love. A consistent attempt has been made throughout to modernize both dialogue and description wherever this has been possible without harming the old-world flavor of the original.”

Rare to find.

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1925 · Shirley Watkins · Heidi

About the Watkins version of Heidi

This translation, originally published by MacRae Smith & Co. and Grosset and Dunlap, is out of print.

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Extract from the Watkins version of Heidi

1954 · M. Rosenbaum · Heidi

About the Rosenbaum version of Heidi

Originally published with a foreword by Margaret Tempest and illustrations by Pelagie Doane.

This translation is out of print.

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Extract from the Rosenbaum version of Heidi

1956 · Eileen Hall · Heidi

About the Hall version of Heidi

The Eileen Hall translation belongs to Penguin and is in print in a variety of formats.

Extract from the Hall version of Heidi

Get the Be Classic / Puffin Hall translation of Heidi

Introduction by Veera Hiranandani. This translation published 1956. (I conclude it is the Penguin Eileen Hall translation published in 1956.)

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780593203163, 272 pages).

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Get the Be Classic / Puffin Hall translation of Heidi

Introduction by Veera Hiranandani. This translation published 1956. (I conclude it is the Penguin Eileen Hall translation published in 1956.)

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9780593204511).

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Get the Puffin in Bloom Hall translation of Heidi

Cover illustration by Anna Bond, interior illustrations by Cecil Leslie. Endnotes.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9780147514028, 336 pages).

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Get the Puffin Classics Hall translation of Heidi

Introduction by Eva Ibbotson.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780141322568, 320 pages).

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Get the The Sisterhood Hall translation of Heidi

Including an introduction from writer and feminist activist Scarlett Curtis. "Heidi is one of six much-loved Puffin Classics, brought together for International Women's Day in a stunning set in celebration of some of the most iconic female writers of the 19th and early 20th century."

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780241374870, 304 pages).

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Get the Puffin Classics Hall translation of Heidi

Introduction by Eva Ibbotson.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9780141919010, 336 pages).

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Get the Aladdin Classics Hall translation of Heidi

Foreword by Eloise McGraw. Includes a short reader's guide at the end.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780689839627, 304 pages).

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1959 · Joy Law · Heidi

About the Law version of Heidi

This translation is out of print. It was published as part of a series called “Around the World Treasures.” According to Susan Stan, this version contains a kind of 32-page color picture book telling of the story and also the entire novel with black-and-white illustrations. Illustrations are by Charles Mozley.

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Susan Stan’s article contains the first paragraph:

From the pleasant village of Mayenfeld a path leads through green fields, richly covered with trees, to the foot of the mountain, which from this side majestically overhangs the valley. Where the path grows steeper, and goes straight up to the Alps, the perfume of sweet mountain plants welcomes the traveler.

2017 · Peter James Bowman · Heidi

Who is Peter James Bowman?

Peter James Bowman is a British writer and translator with a PhD in German Literature from Cambridge.

About the Bowman version of Heidi

From the publisher: “A timeless classic of Swiss literature that has inspired many adaptations and has captured the imaginations of children the world over, Heidi: Lessons at Home and Abroad is here presented in a brand-new, unabridged translation by Peter James Bowman, with charming illustrations by Susan Hellard.”

Extract from the Bowman version of Heidi

Get the Alma Classics Bowman translation of Heidi

Illustrations by Susan Hellard. "This edition contains extra material for young readers, including a section on ‘Other Classic Stories of Orphans’, a glossary and a test-yourself quiz."

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781847496652, 288 pages).

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Other Info and Resources

Heidi Sequels

There are four sequels to the original Heidi book. They were written by translator Charles Tritten in French. Two are available in English.

  1. 1936 – Heidi jeune fille (Heidi Grows Up)
  2. 1938 – Au pays de Heidi
  3. 1939 – Heidi et ses enfants (Heidi’s Children)
  4. 1941 – Heidi grand’mère

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Heidi: Film adaptations

There have been numerous film adaptations of Heidi, from the Shirley Temple movie in 1937 to a Swiss movie I saw on a plane in 2015.

Heidi: Japanese TV series

Apparently, Heidi—or at least the anime version of the character—is ridiculously well known in Japan.

Heidi: Download original German text

Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre by Johanna Spyri
Download Heidi Part 1 from Gutenberg

Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat by Johanna Spyri
Download Heidi Part 2 from Gutenberg

Conclusion

There is no one best translation; my advice is to choose the one that sounds best to your ear.

From the standpoint of illustrations, my choice would be the Edwardes translation with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, or maybe the out-of-print Dole translation with Tomi Ungerer’s illustrations.

If you want a free ebook, get the Standard Ebooks Stork translation.

Is there a version of Heidi from your childhood that you’re nostalgic about? Let us know in the comments!

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