A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
OCTOBER 29:

  • It’s the birth date of Valerie Worth (1933–1994) All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.
  • In 1945 the first ballpoint pens go on sale for $12.50 each! Read The Bronze Pen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw and A Pen Pal for Max by Gloria Rand, illustrated by Ted Rand.
  • On this day in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court rules segregation must end. Read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford, Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, and Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso.
  • It’s Hermit Day so spend some time alone, thinking, writing or reading. Try Kermit The Hermit by Bill Peet.

On October 29, 1924, England and America’s bestselling children’s book writer died in New York. After leaving her native land, she lived for years in the United States, and a New York Times obituary mourned the passing of this beloved figure. She was, by way of an easy comparison, the J.K. Rowling of her day; she was read with equal enthusiasm by adults and children. Her works had been successfully adapted for theater and for a then-new media, motion pictures.

She is still, today, a household name—but not for the books mentioned in that obituary. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic works, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, were considered of minor importance in her lifetime, but long ago people stopped reading what her contemporaries felt to be her masterpiece, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Her story reminds us that many of our literary classics were not as successful during the author’s lifetime as they became after his or her death.

Sometimes called the first modern novel for children, The Secret Garden features two sickly, unlikable protagonists. However, in the process of the narrative, Colin Craven and Mary Lennox undergo personal transformations, as they set out to revive a languishing garden in Misselthwaite Manor. The author excelled in the telling detail. A gardener could learn how to prune roses from the book! In fact, Burnett once said, “It is not enough to mention they have tea, you must specify the muffins.”

In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Katherine Paterson writes about the sense of wonder she feels when she reads The Secret Garden: “that a shriveled brown bulb can produce a tulip, that dead sticks can give birth to roses, and that even people shriveled by illness and deadened by grief can still blossom. Her book helped me to see the miracle of new life bursting forth from apparent death.” Recently, an eleven-year-old Texan girl told me that The Secret Garden was her favorite book because it showed her that no matter how hurt or damaged a child has become, she can still be healed. Both of these comments cut to the heart of this timeless and magnificent story.

Next to my desk I keep a first edition of The Secret Garden. It was purchased by my mother’s great aunt, born in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. She read it and passed it on to my mother, who gave it to me. When I look at the book, I am connected to all the members of my family back to the time of the Civil War. To me The Secret Garden demonstrates how great children’s books transcend history and bring generations together. I have read this amazing story every few years throughout my life, and each time I find different meaning. No matter what Frances Hodgson Burnett’s contemporaries thought, I believe The Secret Garden, over one hundred years old, stands as one of the greatest children’s books of all times.

Here’s a passage from The Secret Garden:

It was the lock of the door which had been closed ten years and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.

And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door which opened slowly—slowly.

Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.

She was standing inside the secret garden.

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Originally posted October 29, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Gardening, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Secret Garden
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COMMENTS

  1. Sherry says:

    I purchased this for my granddaughter’s library and around the age of 5 she and her father read it for the first time. It’s one of her favorites. Just this week Penguin Classics published a beautiful edition. Softcover with French Flaps. I couldn’t resist. Will make for a lovely gift. http://tinyurl.com/5tngr8j

    Thank you Anita for the lovely post.
    S’

  2. Anita says:

    Sherry: Thanks for the comments and for alerting me to this new edition.

  3. Healigan says:

    I remember finding this book in my neighborhood bookmobile one summer day. It had the most wonderful illustration of Mary in her attic prison, and somehow I knew this was a book I had to read. I read it twice before the next bookmobile day, read it to all three of my children, who then read it themselves. And then we enjoyed the movie versions over and over again as well. Want to know the heart of a 10 year old girl? She is the little princess.

  4. brandie m says:

    The Secret Garden is one of my favorites. I read it again recently and still find it enchanting. I also really enjoyed that line of book covers by Penguin. I purchased the Pippi version because it was illustrated by my daughters favorite artist, Lauren Child.

  5. suzi w. says:

    While I love this one, it was Movie Shoes that really opened the story up to me. And I loved the Agnieska Holland movie version made in 1993. (Can you tell I’m a movie person?) The Little Princess was a book I clung to when I was home sick in my late 20s. It was like my security blanket.

    I need to reread this. How cool that it is 100 years old!

  6. Rebecca says:

    recently reread – just as enchanting as it was when I was a child, although so much more nuanced now. Also worth reading are some of Lois Lowry’s writings on the way the novel informed her own writing – particularly in many of her characters’ desire for (usually metaphorical) “green space.” Shows just just influential Burnett’s classic is still today. I love it!

  7. Rebecca says:

    And Happy Birthday! This blog and all you know just make me happy.

  8. Anita says:

    Rebecca and Suzi W.: Thanks for your comments and for being such perceptive readers of this blog.

  9. Lorna Ruby says:

    I love The Secret Garden , thanks for featuring it! I think it’s the perfect book to read in the spring, the descriptions of the garden coming to life are exquisite. I also love the songs from the Broadway Musical and think they did a pretty good job with the songs (and only messed with the story just a little bit). The Secret Garden also appears in a Hallmark movie called A Season For Miracles, one of the story threads features a little girl who has trouble reading. She’s encouraged to take A Secret Garden out of the library. I’m sure whoever wrote the movie must have had a connection to the book because they make reading it a magical experience for the little girl.

  10. Melody says:

    Anita, I never seem to post on the day, but I wanted to add that I have been to the “secret garden” in Rolvenden, Kent. Burnett lived at Great Maytham Hall for almost a decade, and there is a wonderful walled garden there which apparently was in sad condition when Burnett arrived and revived by her. You can read more in Wikipedia or here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/periodproperty/5708631/Great-Maytham-Hall-share-in-the-secret.html

    I don’t think it is open very often now, but it was a delight to visit the inspiration for such a wonderful book.

  11. Anita says:

    Melody: Thanks for this link and post. I would love to visit it some day. Although I suppose I already have a picture of the “secret garden” in my mind.

  12. Becky Hall says:

    The Secret Garden was the first book my daughter read independently. She hugged it to her chest for days and labored over the words but she was determined…and successful. What a fine first!

  13. Sandy says:

    Jill Tamaki, is the young Canadian illustrator who embroidered three of the covers for Penguin’s THREADS series, “The Secret Garden”, “Emma” & “Black Beauty”. I found “Emma” at Marshall’s yesterday! The backside of the stitchery is pictured in the inside flaps….(that I didn’t know!) very cool! Such a nice present! thanks Anita! http://www.us.penguingroup.com/pages/classics/penguinthreads.html

  14. Sandy says:

    Candlewick has another beautifully illustrated version by illustrator, Inga Moore. PS. correction….it’s JILLIAN Tamaki.

  15. Jen says:

    Oh, so love this book! I read all of FHB’s books. To me, she expresses what I look for in the best children’s books–the feeling of hope and the power of love and kindness. Thanks for the post.

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