The subject of reading first arises in Johanna Spyri's beloved children's novel Heidi in chapter 4, "In The Grandmother's Hut," when Peter visits his blind grandmother.
"Good-evening, little Peter; how is your reading going?"
"Just the same," the boy replied (chapter 4).
Peter means that he still hasn't learned to read.
I am afraid he'll never learn it after all. On the shelf over there is an old prayer-book with beautiful songs. I have forgotten them all, for I do not hear them any more. I longed that Peter should read them to me some day, but he will never be able to! (chapter 4)
It appears that Peter simply hasn't applied himself to learning to read. He's much more interested in learning things that seem to be of more immediate use and value to him.
The boy [Peter] thought it was a more useful occupation to look for hazel-rods than to learn to read, for he always needed the rods (chapter 5).
In chapter 6, "A New Chapter With New Things," Miss Rottenmeier asks Heidi about her schooling.
"What books have you studied?"
"None," said Heidi.
"But how did you learn to read?"
"I can't read and Peter can't do it either," Heidi retorted.
"For mercy's sake! you cannot read?" cried the lady in her surprise. "How is it possible?" (chapter 6)
Clara is much more encouraging about Heidi learning to read, but Heidi has her doubts.
"We shall have our lessons together, and I think it will be great fun when you learn to read...What fun it will be now, when you learn to read!"
Heidi shook her head doubtfully at these prospects (chapter 6).
A few chapters later, in chapter 10, "A Grandmama," the grandmama addresses the issue of reading directly to Heidi.
"Tell me now how your lessons are going. What have you learnt, child, tell me?"
"Nothing," Heidi sighed; "but I knew that I never could learn it."
"What is it that you can't learn?"
"I can't learn to read; it is too hard."
"What next? Who gave you this information?"
"Peter told me, and he tried over and over again, but he could not do it, for it is too hard" (chapter 10).
Heidi seems resigned to her lack of belief in herself and her inability to learn to read, but the grandmama has other ideas about it.
"I am going to tell you something, Heidi," said the kind lady now. "You have not learnt to read because you have believed what Peter said. You shall believe me now, and I prophesy that you will learn it in a very short time, as a great many other children do that are like you and not like Peter" (chapter 10).
Remarkably, within a week, Mr. Candidate reports to Mrs. Sesemann that Heidi has learned to read.
"Mrs. Sesemann, something has happened that I never expected," and with many more words the happy grandmama was told that Heidi had suddenly learned to read with the utmost correctness, most rare with beginners (chapter 10).
Soon, Heidi is reading books aloud to Clara, and within a very short time, Heidi is reading to Grandmama nearly every day after dinner (chapter 11).