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.