The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a book that my wife read when she was young (along with Burnett’s equally famous A Little Princess) but I knew pretty much nothing about it except that it was about a girl and a garden … which was secret. My daughter got a copy for her birthday and we decided that I’d read it to her for bedtime stories. It took us about a month, at a pace of approximately one chapter a night, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Here’s the gist, on the small chance that you don’t already know: Mary Lennox is a little girl who lived in India and was waited upon hand and foot by servants because her parents really didn’t want anything to do with her. But then her parents (and many of the servants) are wiped out by cholera, and she is sent to live with her eccentric uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in England.

Her Uncle Craven, while rich, also has nothing to do with Mary and for the first time in her life she is mostly left to her own devices. She explores the manor and the grounds, and eventually discovers the secret garden. It was once the favorite garden of Craven’s wife until she died a decade earlier; since then it has been locked up, the key buried, and nobody has set foot in it. When Mary discovers the key and finds the ivy-hidden door, she feels as if she’s entered an entirely new world.

In the meantime, there are two boys who also play a significant role in the story. Dickon is the brother of one of the manor servants, and he has a way with animals and plants. Mary enlists his help in bringing the garden back to life. The other is Colin, the sickly (and equally spoiled) son of Craven, who is treated as an invalid and sees himself as one. It takes the spoiled Mary to finally shock him out of his tantrums, and they begin an unlikely friendship.

Ultimately the story is about two kids learning the power of optimism, physical activity and the magic of gardens. Near the beginning of the story were some bits about India and the natives that made me cringe a little, but other than that I felt like the book holds up pretty well — sure, it’s set a long time ago in a very unfamiliar setting, but my daughter really enjoyed listening to it and my feeble attempts at a Yorkshire accent. And something that I appreciated as a parent was having a literary example of what a spoiled child is like—it has come up more than once in discussions with our daughter later on when she’s acting particularly self-centered. But you don’t need to tell your kids that.

Note: this review was originally written for GeekDad as part of my Stories About Girls series.

Fed to jonathan's brain | January 21, 2011 | Comments (0)


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