As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

March 15, 2011

THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911

The Secret GardenWhat secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite manor? Recently arrived at her uncle's estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won't enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty--unaware that she is changing too. But Missalthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic wil work wonders on him. (Amazon)

By Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host

I’ve been an avid reader all my life, so my brain is full to the brim with memories having to do with books.  A standout memory, though, is of the first time I read THE SECRET GARDEN. 

I think I was about nine or ten.  We had a green paperback version of it that, by the time it made it into my hands, had been loved to tatters and read over and over by my older siblings. 

It was a dark and stormy night…

Really, it was.  Early in April, I think, when there were still patches of snow on the ground in my rural Wyoming hometown.  I remember lying on my bed, reading until the wee hours.  I loved how the book could be sad (when Mary’s parents died in India), creepy (when Mary heard the haunting cries of her cousin—though she didn’t know it was her cousin, at the time, and neither did I), and mesmerizing (Wasn’t Dickon wonderful, with his animal-speak and gently blunt ways?).  I puzzled through Martha and Dickon’s strong, Yorkshire accents, which were written in just enough of a dialect that I knew how the two characters sounded.  I dreaded encounters with Mrs. Medlock and with Ben Weatherstaff—until I learned that Ben was more bark than bite, like most of the elderly farmers I knew.  I longed for Mary to find the garden, and when she did—oh! my heart just about burst with gladness for her.  And a bit of jealousy.  I wanted a secret garden, too.  I’m sure I fell asleep with this extraordinary book on my chest for several nights in a row.

When I was a child, I could walk outside my back door, cross the lawn, hop over the fence, and keep walking for about three miles before I reached a road—a dirt road, which I could easily cross, then continue up the mountains into the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  But I knew I wasn’t allowed to cross the road.  So, pretending I was Mary Lennox, I wandered over the Wyoming “moors” (the alfalfa hay fields behind my house, not yet planted), practicing my Yorkshire talk, like Mary did.  I whistled to the birds, calling them “cheeky little beggars,” and muddied myself thoroughly.  It was wonderful.

Every child needs to read THE SECRET GARDEN.  It’s a beautiful tale of friendship, growth, forgiveness, endurance, determination, and love.  As a child, I adored it for its surprising twists, chilling moments, and beautiful emphasis on the natural world I knew so well.  It might be my favorite novel.  Ever.

Market: Young Adult—if you stick with the original text.  You can find adaptations for younger children, too.
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Very Mild—Mary’s parents die from cholera at the beginning of the book, as do many of their servants.  It’s not graphically presented at all.  Also, Mary learns that her aunt died in the distant past.
Mature Themes: death, abandonment, depression—all presented in the gentle way that is characteristic of classic children’s literature

Book formats:


Kelli said...

Oh, I LOVE this book! I do remember loving it to tatters, sorry if it was a little grimy! ;) What ended up happening to it? I've got to get a copy to start on with Halli! Great review!

Anonymous said...

Uh...I've got it, Sis. Sorry. It's definitely grimy and all taped up, but if you want it, I'll send it to you so you can read it with Halli!!! It's so good!

Katie L. said...

Wow, what a pretty review, Kim!

You know, I've never read The Secret Garden. I've seen the musical a time or two, which is a lovely little piece in its own right, but it looks like it's almost mandatory that I pick up a copy of the book now, too. :-)

Anonymous said...

Katie: Thanks! It's hard to do a bad review of a great book. And yes, you should definitely read the book. I love the music from the musical, too, though. "Lily's Eyes" is a favorite. "Wick" gets stuck in my head in a bad, bad way (i.e. not a favorite).

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a video clip that shows both Wick and Lily's Eyes, if anyone is interested.

Unknown said...

I remember reading this to my daugher's when they were small. Now my daughter has the copy in her library and it holds a place of endearment.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my all time favorite books! The best movie version is the Wonderworks one. I love it that they show her parents in India dying . . . beautiful done. But I could read this and A Little Princess over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Sherree: This really is a wonderful book, isn't it?

Jessica: I have never seen the Wonderworks version! I have seen the previews, though, on my copy of A Little Princess, so I know which one it is. I'll definitely get it this weekend for family movie night! Thanks for the recommendation!

pie said...

Oh, I love this book (and A Little Princess too). I did my last paper in my college senior seminar course on it. I owe a great debt to my 3rd grade teacher who read it aloud to us as we sat outside.

Laura Howard said...

I love your review Kim! Isnt Dickon the dreamiest? We borrowed the audiobook from the library last year and my girls loved it! They do a great job with a full cast of narrators, I recommend it;)