The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Tasha Tudor first published in 1911; illustrations copyright 1962
Mary [stood] waiting, a plain little thing, twisting her thin hands together. She could see that the man in the chair was not so much a hunchback as a man with high, rather crooked shoulders, and he had black hair streaked with white. He turned his head over his high shoulders and spoke to her..
“Don’t look so frightened,” he exclaimed.”I am your guardian, though I am a poor one for any child. I cannot give you time or attention. I am too ill, and wretched and distracted; but I wish you to be happy and comfortable. I sent for you today because Mrs. Sowerby said I ought to see you. She thought you needed fresh air and freedom and running about.” “She knows all about children,” Mary said. “She ought to,” said Mr. Craven. “I thought her rather bold to stop me on the moor, but…now I have seen you I think she said sensible things. Play out of doors as much as you like. It’s a big place and you my go where you like and amuse yourself as you like. Is there anything you want?” as if a sudden thought had struck him. “Do you want toys, books, dolls?” “Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth? To plant seeds in — to make things grow — to see them come alive,” Mary faltered. “A bit of earth,” he said to himself, and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind. “You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of some one else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”
More than a century old, The Secret Garden is another classic piece of children’s literature that I want to highlight this summer in the hopes that some of you will pick up an old book and find a new favorite.
It’s a story about growth, above all else, and the ingredients that make living things — from rose bushes to children — flourish.
Mary Lennox is a sour, spoiled, unremarkable child whose life as a British expat in India has been cushioned with luxuries and replete with servants but severely lacking in affection or proper training. She is selfish, rude, and imperious. So, when she is orphaned and sent to Yorkshire to live at the estate of an elderly uncle, she is in for quite a wake up call.
The staff at Misselthwaite, while kind, don’t believe in pandering to a little girl. Mary is left on her own to explore the vast gardens on the edge of the moor. As she wanders about in the bracing air, a number of transformations take place:
She becomes healthier by far. She gains perspective from conversations with folks who won’t kowtow to her. She meets Dickon, a young boy with an extraordinary knack with plants and wildlife. And she discovers a hidden garden, seemingly barren of flowers but flush with secrets.
Mary makes another discovery amidst the one hundred rooms of the gloomy mansion — her frail cousin, Colin, as petulant and self-absorbed as she is, languishing in the dark with a troubling secret of his own.
When two children, both quite used to having their own way and saying their say, clash — what happens? When two children, puny, soft and aimless, seize upon an idea with vigor — what happens?
Watch gardens come alive and children bloom with the help of Nature, courage, honesty, and nurture in this story full of magic and hope. Meet a crusty old Yorkshire gardener with a heart of gold, and a wise mother of ten who knows all about the proper nurture of living things. Uncover the mystery of a garden, and a child, both locked away, and feel the strengthening freshness of open doors and outdoor play.
It’s a great read-aloud, and though the title has a feminine ring, the story suits both boys and girls, ages 8 and up. Independent readers need to be stout enough to manage the broad Yorkshire dialect used in much of the dialogue. No movie version I’ve seen does this book justice. Read it for yourself!