Book Review: The Secret Garden
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic story for kids. It was first published in 1911, and, more than one hundred years later, it still resonates with children around the world. The story follows an angry and spoilt British girl, Mary, raised largely by absentee parents in India. As Mary rarely sees her parents, the Indian servants manage her. When cholera kills both her parents unexpectedly, Mary is sent to live with an unknown uncle in England. Life in England, in a big house, with an uncle who is either away or forgetful of her presence, is nothing at all like life in India. However, as she runs freely through the gardens and begins to make her first friends, she realizes she has changed. When she looks upon herself, now, she sees, “quite a different creature from the child she had seen when she arrived from India. This child looked nicer.”
What I like the most about “The Secret Garden” is that the adventure is centered on character development. Mary soon realizes that she has been quite “contrary” all her life and that she has “never liked any person, and no person has ever liked me.” Later, however, she begins to “feel nicer, and is nicer” and appreciates the people around her. These discoveries about herself, as well as the discovery of a secret garden, allow her to help other people, something she’s never done before. The adventure and excitement of the book are tied to the characters themselves, which can provide children and parents a wonderful respite from today’s run-of-the-mill action-adventure story for kids.
Parents should be warned of a few things before beginning The Secret Garden, however. First, Mary’s parents die within the first few chapters. While Mary wasn’t especially close to them, and the story quickly moves on, younger children and more sensitive older ones may have trouble with this. Also, much of the dialogue is written in a Yorkshire accent, which can be tricky for children trying to read the book on their own. Finally, the way Mary speaks about her time in India can seem dated (at best) today. Mary speaking of her “servants,” and “natives,” and “how strange they all were,” can, however, provide parents with an opportunity to discuss how much things have changed in India since the book’s publication.
All things considered, “The Secret Garden” is a fabulous story for kids. It can be read with or aloud to a mature 8- to 11-year-old. The discussion opportunities are ample, and the quiet, serene writing style makes for good bedtime reading. Children can tackle the book on their own, but parents should be prepared to discuss with them what they’ve read and understood. This is a book best enjoyed together!