The almost-magical The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (originally published serially in 1910) captures the transformation of a lonely girl into an outgoing and confident one through the power of magic and friendship. With a focus on the healing power of nature, it is also perfect for spring.
It is a book that is a book full of memories for me. When I was a young girl, I recall staying home, sick, from school one day. My mom took our copy of The Secret Garden down off the shelf, and, just for me, she began reading it aloud.
The day when I brought my newborn daughter Strawberry home from the hospital, I pulled my copy down and began reading it aloud to her. She was about four days old. I read it during those first months when I was in a daze of sleep deprivation. I read it as I helped her calm down for the night. I read it more recently as our bedtime story. I finally finished it for her last week, when she was 5.5 months old.
The Secret Garden is a book about the magic of positive thinking. Burnett takes two cantankerous, negative, and spoiled children and places them together in a new setting: a garden that needs a bit of TLC in order to bloom back in to the beautiful and magnificent haven it once was. With a loveable animal charmer child, young Dickon, the children learn the power of positive thinking and experience the benefits of hard work in the open air. As sour orphan Mary Lennox and her invalid cousin Colin Craven resuscitate the seemingly dead garden and put in a bit of work, they too begin to blossom into pleasant people.
The book is perfect for spring. Lonely Mary was a truly unpleasant child, but under the open air of an English garden, she learns to abandon her selfishness with the assistance of a spring robin and a secretive gardener, the adorable old Ben Weatherstaff. Meeting the mysterious child, Colin, also helped her recognize her own personality faults. I read of the robin and the tender young plants growing as spring blossomed outside for me, and it was a nice correlation between reality and fiction. It took me a long time to read the book, much as it took months for them to grow their garden.
The Secret Garden is not without it’s faults. Being a book from another era, there are some racist comments and themes relating to imperialism and the native people of India. Parents reading the book aloud may want to be prepared to discuss these issues. Further, the emphasis on “natural healing” may not resonate with those of us who rely on modern medicine.1 The children’s talk of “magic” is a bit over-the-top, since they seem to confuse the power of God with that of a mysterious “magic.”
Nonetheless, when I read The Secret Garden, I still find myself enjoying the story, the changing children’s characters, and especially the delightful Dickon. (I must have had a crush on him as a child, because I still think of him rather fondly now.) The Secret Garden may help the spoiled child see their own failings as a pleasant being and prompt them to change. The discussion of growing things may prompt a child’s interest in gardening. But in general, reading The Secret Garden will provide children with a delightful tale of secrecy, success, and positive childhood friendship.
- Although I read the book as a story of positive attitude healing a boy who was invalided because of fear, according to Wikipedia, Burnett was interested in Christian Science policies and embraced them fully in this book. ↩