December 16, 2009

Reading Together: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett

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A couple of months ago I picked up The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett for my daughter at the used book store. I thought it would be a good book to read together. Two months later, we finished it.

I read books to my daughter all the time; it's our night time ritual. But the books we read are either picture books or small chapter books (like Clementine). This was our first novel and first classic together.

I've never actually read this before so I was curious about it. It has a Bronte quality to it, especially since it's mostly set in Yorkshire. There are secrets, hidden rooms and gardens, and bitter heartbroken men, not to mention copious use of the word 'wuthering'.

The Secret Garden starts out with little Mary Lennox, the only survivor of a cholera outbreak in her home in India. She may have only lived because she was extremely neglected by her parents who would rather have parties than spend time with their child. Mary is sent to live with her uncle in England on an estate called Misselthwaite Manor.

Mary is relegated to a lonely part of the house where the only person she ever sees is a servant girl, Martha. I was wondering where Child Services were at this point. It's hard to feel sorry for Mary though; she's a selfish girl but the author makes note several times that she just didn't know any better.

Martha is a healthy, boisterous Yorkshire lass and doesn't put up with Mary's attitude. She tells her stories of her own big family, of the moorland, of the sad history of Misselthwaite Manor and it's owner. She encourages Mary to go outside and play. This is a new concept for Mary. Play? What is that? It does her good. By chance, she finds a neglected, secret garden and with the help of Martha's brother, Dickon, brings it back to life. As the garden grows, so does Mary in both body and character.

When we finally finished it, my daughter was excited to have read such a 'big book.' I was too! At times, she didn't want me to put it down, other times she was bouncing all over the bed and we only made it through a few pages. The Secret Garden is heavy on the description and while I enjoy that, it was a little much for my 7 year old. She did like when Mary found the garden and the boy Dickon. I think like Mary she was half in love with him. She liked telling me how many people knew the secret as we read and laughed whenever Mary bragged about how fat she was getting. That's not something we hear often now. We also both liked the art of Tasha Tudor in this copy.

Since this book was written 100 years ago, it has moments that weren't quite up to modern children's books standards. I found myself editing a few parts involving comments about the Indian servants. I did feel that the book was on the anglocentric side. English country air = good, foreign air = bad. But that was just how it was back then. The theme of nature and our connection to it was something I really enjoyed in the book though.

My daughter asked me about the age of the book about a million times, which drove me a little nuts, and whether they had cars, etc. I realize now that this is a great introduction to classic literature and history. This won't be our last 'big' book together. I'm already planning on reading Heidi, Little Women (even with the sad Beth part) and Anne of Green Gables.

Stay tuned!

BookBlips: vote it up!

24 comments :

  1. Little Women is one of my favorite books as well as it should be considering that's where my mom got my name! :-) Anne of Green Gables is another wonderful story. I also enjoyed the Little House of the Prairie books too.

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  2. Amy- I never read the Little House books. I'll have to put that on the list.

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  3. I love that you two read together. It was such a sad day for me when my son thought he was too old for that anymore.

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  4. Oh what memories! The Secret Garden was my very favorite book as a child, even more than Heidi and Little Women. I was a loner and I related to the story.

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  5. Oh, lovely. I really enjoyed this book as a child. And kudos for parents who read to their kids every night! The two I nanny for are read to every night as well. I love being a part of that ritual with them.

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  6. What a great first 'big' read! It was my favorite when I was younger. The movie is also amazing- so beautiful and dark. Aww, I want to go watch it now!

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  7. The Little House on the Prairies books would be great. This sounds like it was a wonderful bonding experience and great intro to classics for your daughter. Great post - I really like how you wrote it.

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  8. Sounds like fun! Enjoy the rest of your selections!

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  9. I remember my mother reading me Secret Garden when I was a girl. I found it so mysterious!

    I also remember my mother reading the Narnia books. I tackled all the Anne books on my own (as I have red hair, I loved her).

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  10. I loved the Secret Garden when I first read it years ago. I have to think when I read it with my daughter (she's still a bit too young) I'll either find myself edited a few parts like you did, or having to explain to her why it used to be acceptable to say those things in books...

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  11. I didn't discover The Secret Garden till adulthood (and I loved it when I did), although A Little Princess by the same author is probably my all-time favorite. I still have my original copy. It's a little tattered. :)

    Like Kathy, I really miss the days of reading with my children. I was kind of sad when they began reading on their own. I'm thrilled that both are avid readers, though.

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  12. I loved this book when I was in Middle School, and I can still envision the garden behind the wall. I'm looking forward to reading The Making of A Marchioness, by the same author, although sadly lacking the illustrations of Tasha Tudor.

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  13. My daughter had a hard time with "Betsy-Tacy," as living in the early 1900s is so much different than today. I've never read this book, but I know my daughter received it as a gift awhile back. I'll have to dig out her copy and give it a look. Thanks for the review!

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  14. Kathy- i don't want to think about that.

    Rural View- I wish I had read it when I was a kid.

    Bookshelf- I'm sure they will remember that.

    She- I'll have to look for the movie.

    Heather & Kelly- Thanks!

    Rebecca- We have to read Anne. It's a Canadian classic!

    Jeanne- Yeah, that's a tricky bit. I really punked out.

    Bookfool- I'll have to find that one too.

    Dolce- The illustrations were beautiful.

    Anna- There were a lot of questions from her.

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  15. You've never read this before? Oh, I am happy to hear that you've read it NOW, and it must've been an awesome experience reading it for your first time while introducing it to your daughter because it IS a delightful book!!

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  16. Yay! I think you're right...we're book twins! :) I'm glad you enjoyed this one overall. I can't wait to dive back in for a re-read, and I have Burnett's Little Princess around here somewhere, too.

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  17. I highly recommend Burnett's A Little Princess but I think I'd wait another year or so. It has such lovely lessons and also has Tasha Tudor's illustrations.

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  18. I highly recommend Burnett's A Little Princess but I think I'd wait another year or so. It has such lovely lessons and also has Tasha Tudor's illustrations.

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  19. I highly recommend Burnett's A Little Princess but I think I'd wait another year or so. It has such lovely lessons and also has Tasha Tudor's illustrations.

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  20. How wonderful that you read this with your daughter! I have it in my stack of tbr books, waiting to be picked up. I remember another blogger mentioning that she felt it was racist not that long ago.

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  21. My 25 year old son and I had some fun a couple of weeks ago when we took turns reading chapters in Fantastic Mr. Fox together. We tried to outdo each other hamming it up...so you see, this reading together thing could go on forever!

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  22. This is so heartwarming. I've not yet read this book either. Merry Christmas! (yep, I'm up early on Christmas blogging while a few others sleep in...)

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  23. I just read it this month and will be doing my review. It was a good book with a strong moral to the story.

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  24. I loved this story when I read it. I have no idea how old I was, though. Maybe a pre-teen. But it is just a great tale. I liked Little Princess, too.

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