MAY 30:

  • Happy birthday Frances Barnes-Murphy (The Fables of Aesop) and Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
  • It’s the birth date of Cornelia Otis Skinner (1901-1979), Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, Countee Cullen (1903-1946), The Lost Zoo, and Millicent E. Selsam (1912-1996), Greg’s Microscope.
  • On this day in 1859, Westminster’s Big Ben rang for the first time in London. Read Ben, the Bells and the Peacock by Rhoda Trooboff, illustrated by Cecile Bucher.
  • Happy 100th birthday to the Indianapolis 500 auto race, first held in 1911. Read The Wheels on the Race Car by Alex Zane, illustrated by James Warhola.
  • It’s Water a Flower Day. Read Alison’s Zinnia by Anita Lobel.

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer. For children summer often means more unstructured time when they can enjoy their own activities.

The hero of our book of the day, Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden,  Tom Long has been looking forward to his summer idyll with his brother, Peter. But Peter comes down with the measles, and Tom gets sent off to stay with relatives even though he doesn’t want to go. Fortunately Tom finds unusual attractions in their home. At midnight, after the clock downstairs rings thirteen times, he can enter a magical garden. There he encounters an enchanting girl named Hatty. They build a tree house together and ice skate for miles over a river. Hatty begins to grow older during these nighttime vigils. Slowly Tom comprehends that although Hatty lives in the same house that he does, she comes from another time.

In the summer of 1951, Philippa Pearce lay in a hospital bed recovering from tuberculosis. She spent the summer thinking of her parents’ old mill house and garden, which stood near the River Cam. When she had recovered enough to work, she used this setting for Tom’s Midnight Garden. After she had finished the manuscript, she provided many photographs and sketches for the illustrator, so the drawings actually reflected details from Pearce’s childhood home.

Considered by British critics as the finest fantasy after The Hobbit of the twentieth century, Tom’s Midnight Garden has never been as well known in America as it is in England. Yet, like Wind in the Willows, Tom’s Midnight Garden can be appreciated by adults, as well as children, and seems even more profound with each rereading. As Pearce explores how present experience has been influenced by the past, she manages to weave an absolutely perfect time-travel fantasy novel that surprises me every time I come to the end, even though I know what will happen.

If you don’t know it or simply want to experience the story again, Tom’s Midnight Garden makes a fabulous beginning for a summer of reading. On this Memorial Day, as we honor our heroes and heroines of the past, we can also reflect on the profound way that our past intersects with the present.

Here’s a passage from Tom’s Midnight Garden:

The solitary skater had swerved away from them, and now came rushing across the ice on her skates—right across the meadow toward the hedge. Hatty—for it was Hatty—had seen Tom. “Oh, at least I saw something and I thought it might be you.” She peered doubtfully at Tom, even as she was gliding up on her last, long stroke.

She was opening the garden gate. “I’m so glad it is you, Tom! I miss you sometimes, even now—in spite of the Chapman girls being such good fun, and Barry and the others—in spite of the skating—Oh, Tom, skating! I feel as if I could go from here to the end of the world, if all the world were ice! I feel as free as a bird—as I’ve never felt before! I want to go so far—so far!”



Originally posted May 30, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Gardening, Ghosts, History, Time Travel
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Tom’s Midnight Garden


  1. Pussreboots says:

    I hadn’t heard of the novel until a friend of mine in England gave me a copy. I loved it from start to finish. It’s on my list of favorite time travel stories.

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Anita,

    I *love* this book! I’ve read Tom’s Midnight Garden countless times in the last 35+ years (that many? golly!) and, as you say, it seems to get richer with meaning and feeling with each reading. Philippa Pearce may not have been prolific, but her understanding of the world of childhood, with its feelings of love, loss, desire, loneliness and self-awareness, was compelling.

  3. Mindi says:

    Anita..I’ve never heard of Tom’s Midnight Garden. I’m going to check my local library to see if they have a copy. MIght be a good one to do as a read aloud with my girls this summer!

  4. I just ordered this book…how have I missed so many of these “sound delicious” books I would have devoured in childhood – guess I was busy devouring and just couldn’t read them all! Thank you, Anita!

  5. Anita says:

    Mindy and Carol: You are not alone. Yes, it is a great read aloud. But of all my titles in 100 Best Books for Children, Tom’s Midnight Garden was the title most Americans had missed!

  6. Put on hold at library because I did miss this one! Can’t wait to read it!

  7. G.Perry says:

    Now this is a book very close to my heart.

    When I first started reading it, I found it very unusually, and found it difficult getting in the flow of the language and theme. But it was not long before I absolutely fell headlong into some kind of magical light from those pages. It became me, and I became it. Amazing. Just amazing.

    I loved Harry Potter but this book was something from a new place. I almost felt “invited” as if I was clearly someone the author had hoped would one day find this book. Well, Pillippa, I did. (And I had that same feeling about 100 Best Books for Children, as well.)

    Of all the books I read listed in Anita’s 100 Best Books for Children, this may well be the one I cherish the most.

    I’m not completely clear about why I feel the way I do about this book. I have thought about it many times. I can understand we all come from literally different places, but from sometimes from very different places in the mind and heart as well. And as I rethink all the things I’ve learned from Judith Herman and RIchard Rhodes, it slowly becomes clear to me in some sort of beautiful way, why Anita says writing children’s books may well be the most important thing that someone can do in life. There’s some kind of glow about that. A kind of glow that has no name.

    I found this book extraordinarily warm, loving, and healing. Something so special for this grown child, that I have to put it in a category all its own.

    In Anita’s book, it has more penciled notations than just about any other listed.

    If you have not read Tom’s Midnight Garden, do something about it. You are about to read something that will never leave you.

  8. Thanks for reminding us of this great novel, Anita – it’s one I’ve heard of but never read. Now I will be sure to read it.

  9. suzi w. says:

    Funny, I was reshelving this the other day and thought how it reminded me of Good Night Mister Tom. How I wish I’d known about you in library school. (That seems a lack in my education, somehow…) But I am so grateful to have found you now.

    Another book to put on hold…

  10. Anita says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. Gordon: You really have described the feeling of reading this book — you always do that so well.

  11. Annemarie O'Brien says:

    I am a newcomer to this site, but not to Anita’s list of 100 children’s books. I am always looking for good books to read for myself and my kids. This one has slipped through my hands and I do plan to read it soon. Thank you! Is there a way to get this book a day recommendation as an email news feed to my email address, I wonder?

  12. Oh thanks for reminding me of this wonderful book! I read it about thirty years ago and was enchanted. Now you’ve inspired me to re-visit it!

  13. Anita says:

    Annemarie: Glad to have you here. At this point, you can get the CBADA as an RSS feed, on twitter, or on Facebook. Hope one of those work for you.

  14. I have never heard of Tom’s Midnight Garden, but it sounds exactly like the sort of book I would have devoured as a child (and still will). Ordering it now!

  15. G.Perry says:

    I think it’s interesting that suzi w and I had the same reaction to this title, that it reminded her of Goodnight Mister Tom.

    I have reread Goodnight Mister Tom more than any other book in my lifetime. Possibly dozens of times, and I continue to return to it. Fortunately, Tom’s Midnight Garden, a magnificently kind work, and does not need nor want the harrowing evil that can shadow some children in real life; an evil that Michelle Magorian portrays with unshakable shattering reality.

  16. Lydia says:

    I first read about this book when there was some controversy a few years back about a house being torn down that might have been an inspiration for the story — I’m afraid I can’t find any more information or what happened about the house, but it generated widespread activism in the UK, on Facebook, etc. It clearly was a beloved story, and once I read it, I discovered why. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to ice skate, and I’ll never look at a grandfather clock the same way again.

  17. CLM says:

    I was introduced to this book about 1971 by the WGBH radio show, The Spider’s Web. When I googled it, I got the obituary for Frances Schrand, the actress turned children’s book narrator: http://wgbhalumni.org/profiles/s/shrand-frances/ For some reason, my family did not get good reception of WGBH so I remember my mother and I moving from room to room with the radio so we wouldn’t miss an installment of Tom’s Midnight Garden which we had come across by accident. Eventually, we found a copy at the library and read it properly. I now own all of Pearce’s books (and many other of the genre) but this is by far the best.

  18. Ashley Maher says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s the first time-slip novel I ever read as well. I was first introduced to this book when I studied abroad in England at Brighton University. I was taking The Child in Literature class, and this book happened to be one of my professor’s favorites. Needless to say, I’m so happy she assigned it. Tom is such a strong character and relatable in every aspect – his want of adventure, his depression over missing his brother Peter, and his curosity over Hattie. Probably my favorite aspect of the book is the special friendship Tom and Hattie shares that transends time itself. Pearce is a genius!!

    This book is truly ageless!

  19. I read this as an adult and it continues as a favorite. Time to re-read!

  20. G. Perry says:

    A year on, and my love of this book only grows stronger. When I think of it, I can instantly recall the entire story with a sense of joy.

  21. Mary says:

    Thank you for re-posting this superb title. I wish it were still available in hardcover. I read it for a book discussion with kids 15 years ago, and have very fond memories of the relationship between Tom and Hattie. I just realized that my two favorite fantasies involve time travel: Tom’s Midnight Garden and Tuck Everlasting. In both books, the authors give us an amazing story, and the chance to reflect on the passage of time in our lives. Both books are superb for all ages.

  22. Anita says:

    Gordon: I love your comment from last year. This is one of those books that gets better with each rereading.

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