Spyri, Johanna "Heidi" (German: "Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre" and "Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat") - 1880-1881
I think everyone remembers their first books. In my case, it was "Heidi". We didn't have that many books at the time, I had to spend a week in hospital when I turned seven, I got my appendix out. I don't remember any of the other presents I received but I clearly remember "Heidi". The very first book I owned. I still have the copy today and it looks pretty well read.
Heidi was everything I wasn't. She lived in the mountains, I lived in Northern Germany where the highest elevation was probably just a little over 100 meters. She loved the outdoors, I loved sitting inside reading my books. She was an orphan, I had my parents and three brothers and hundreds of cousins (well, "only" fifty, but who's counting).
Still, I loved Heidi, maybe because she was so different from me. We all have to have our fictional heroes, Heidi was mine. If I had had a daughter, I might have been able to transfer my love for this book to her but my two boys were not too keen. (I suppose that weird Japanese cartoon series didn't help, either.)
I recently asked my friends what their favourite childhood book was and "Heidi" was the most popular answer.
In any case, give this to your children, it's like time travelling for them, to a country that existed a long long time ago.
From the back cover:
"A classic tale of childhood joys and friendships, it has delighted and inspired generations of children."
Orphaned Heidi lives with her gruff but caring grandfather on the side of Swiss mountain, where she befriends young Peter the goat-herd. She leads an idyllic life, until she is forced to leave the mountain she has always known to go and live with a sickly girl in the city. Will Heidi ever see her grandfather again?"