Title: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
2017 Book Challenge Entry: A book you loved as a child
Thoughts: This entry is one I have been looking forward to filling ever since January. I knew it would be a hard one because I loved so many books as a child I had no idea which book I would choose. As a woman in my 30s, it’s hard to narrow down what books I read “as a child”. I consider kids who are 15 children, so do I get to pick some crazy Christopher Pike horror book I read as a teenager? Should I re-read something that was assigned to me in middle school? Nope. I chose The Secret Garden. I chose this for many reasons.
One. I was in the gifted program in elementary school from 1st to 5th grade. Once a week, a couple other kids and I were bussed from our elementary school to another one in the district and worked on enrichment projects all day with other kids from other schools. We worked on independent study projects, writing, literature, science, group projects, research and brain teasers. Everything was designed to push us academically and make us more effective critical thinkers. I loved it. I was never bored and I felt myself getting smarter all the time. One of the things that happened in about 3rd grade is they started really watching how we interacted with books. Not just what we picked and how well we read, but were we making movies and pictures in our head? Were we able to read with fluency and expression? Were we able to read silently. I was not. In 3rd grade, I was still moving my lips to read. The teachers encouraged me to try to read without this crutch. They said it would take longer at first, but then it would actually increase the speed and comprehension of my reading.
They were right. And The Secret Garden is the book I was reading when I figured all this out. Good times.
Two. I was in the middle of a bout of pregnancy induced anxiety and insomnia one night and T.V., which usually will put me to sleep, was not doing it. I was sleeping on the couch because at 8 1/2 months pregnant, it was more comfortable than my bed and my husband was sleeping on the floor next to me. In an effort not to wake him with some random episode of Murder She Wrote, I picked up my Kindle and started scrolling through my selections. I wanted something comforting, familiar and kind of easy. This was not a situation for War and Peace. Boom. The Secret Garden. I opened it up and was flooded with warm happy thoughts. It did it’s job, I got some sleep, but I immediately knew I wanted to continue reading the rest of the book. And not just as sleep aid.
For anyone new, The Secret Garden tells the tale of Mary Lennox. She is the spoiled bratty child of a British officer and his wife living in India. Cholera sweeps through her family and kills her mother, father and nanny in a manner of days. She is left all alone and is super not happy about it. Mary is sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire and the book explores her adventures in her new home and the relationships she develops with those around her. As the book goes on, she changes and evolves from a horrid child with no independence to a happy healthy girl who is able to connect with those around her.
This happens because of the secret garden. She finds out that her uncle had been married and his wife was an avid gardener. She loved flowers and trees and loved watching things grow and nurturing them. After the birth of their son, she passed away and he locked her favorite garden forever. It has stood vacant for a decade and Mary finds a way in. This leads to her salvation.
What I love about this book, besides Burnett’s absolutely beautiful descriptions of people and places is the evolution of her characters. Not only does this main character, who is so despicable in the beginning, become a loving delightful child, but the way the arch is written is completely believable. I absolutely believe that this girl could have come from her world in India to this one in Yorkshire hating her life and everyone around her. I also believe that through genuine interest in something other than herself, and caring for something, helping it thrive and grow, she could learn to love herself and her new home.
It’s a children’s book. Of course, it would be an easy read for any grownup, but it is so wonderfully written and has such lovely themes, that I think everyone should read it. If you have kids, read it with them. The vocabulary is rich and the lessons to be pulled are universal and know no decade. The book was written in 1911, but I think it has held up. Classics are classics for a reason and after rereading it, I remember why I loved this one so much.