The Swiss Family Robinson has delighted generations of readers with its exciting tale of a family which, though shipwrecked, displays “the right stuff” and builds a charming colony that later, they do not want to leave. Cut off from the comforts and companionship of other humans, they use a familiarity with natural history and biology to find the resources and build the tools to construct a canoe, weave cloth, irrigate a garden, and turn an immense hollow tree into a lofty house with a spiral staircase. They domesticate buffaloes, wild asses, and monkeys. They establish farms and plantations. And finally, they have a terrifying encounter with natives from a nearby island.
Written by Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss and edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss, the novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance. Wyss' attitude toward education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many of the episodes have to do with Christian-oriented moral lessons such as frugality, husbandry, acceptance, cooperation, etc.
The adventures are presented as a series of lessons in natural history and the physical sciences, and resemble other, similar educational books for children in this period, such as Charlotte Turner Smith's Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Further: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). But the novel differs in that it is modeled on Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a genuine adventure story, and presents a geographically impossible array of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants (including the bamboos, cassavas, cinnamon trees, coconut palm trees, fir trees, flax, Myrica cerifera, rice, rubber plant potatoes, sago palms, and an entirely fictitious kind of sugarcane) that probably could never have existed together on a single island for the children's edification, nourishment, clothing and convenience.