"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Children's/YA: The Secret Garden

Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005. 272 pages.

"When Mary Lennox is sent home an orphan from India to live with her hunchbacked uncle at Mistlethwait Manor, she can have little idea of the new life that awaits her there. She arrives a sour-faced, sickly little madam with a furious temper, but through her friendship with local Yorkshire lad, Dickon, and their discovery of a secret garden, soon becomes a happy and healthy girl. She shares her new-found love of life with her sickly cousin, Colin, and together the three children restore the garden to its former glory. Between them they work their magic on the garden, and in turn the garden works its magic on the children and everyone around them. Enchanting and illuminating, The Secret Garden is a richly imaginative story about the potential for transformation." (description from book jacket)

Overall Review: **** (out of five)

  • Description. Burnett's descriptions, whether of Mary in India, or the moor and the people on it, are rich and evocative.  I think that this especially important for young readers, as they get used to reading books without pictures, providing an excellent springboard for their imaginations.
  • Symbolism. The characters and landscapes in this book are highly symbolic, reflecting various changes in the characters and their relationships. This adds an added layer of meaning that children can appreciate as they get older.
  • Time and Setting. A book set in Victorian England might seem odd and difficult to relate to for children, with them wondering about all sorts of things that are different now.  But the characters are so engaging that I hardly think it matters. Also, it could give children an opportunity to ask questions and learn some new things.

 I have read The Secret Garden at a variety of different ages at this point, and it never ceases to be a beautiful book that makes the world seem to be a place of such wonder.  It encourages such wholesome things as playing with friends and being outdoors.  True, these children are often unsupervised, which can often be worrisome in the modern world.  But it demonstrates one of the true magics of childhood: the ability to make fun out of nothing. 

But this book also has lessons for adults.  Don't dwell on the past instead of living in the present.  Do not pass your fears about yourself on to your children.  Be an active part of your child's life.  While few of the children start off as model children, few of the adults are admirable either.  The book also shows that it's never too early or late to change yourself or your outlook on life. 

The books seems relatively simple at first glance: a Gothic novel for children.  But there is so much to take away from it, and yet the book never comes off as preachy.  Mary does not realize the things she is learning, nor does she particularly dwell on her influence on others.  And it is carried on the elegant simplicity of Burnett's writing, which is simple enough for children without dumbing anything down for them.  Highly recommended for both the young and the young at heart

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