The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Recommended for: All Ages (read-aloud) or 8 to Adult (on own, for reading level)
What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle's estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won't enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty--unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.
Oh my goodness, where do I even start? I love this book so much. I first encountered it when my parents read it to my sister and me as a bedtime story, before our youngest sister had even begun to listen to chapter books with us. I believe it was recycled as a read-aloud when my sister was older. I have read it so many times myself. I know I read it when my dog was a puppy, because she tried to run off with it. I have loved trying (and likely failing miserably) to imitate the Yorkshire accents of Martha and Dickon and Ben Weatherstaff just as Mary did. I often used the word "wick" to describe green wood. My dream garden is one exactly like the Secret Garden. I (rather too loudly) quote Mary's "hysterical lump" speech which she yelled at Colin when he was freaking out and having a tantrum because he thought he was turning into a hunchback. I love the pictures of the outdoors, of being right there with Creation. It is so beautiful. The manor house is so dark. And it is so amazing.
Back in the days when The Secret Garden was written, protagonists of children's literature were always perfect little angels. Burnett's own A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy conform to that. A protagonist such as Mary Lennox definitely broke that mold. Honestly, she is a spoiled brat. She is sickly and cross. Her cousin Colin is even more sickly and cross, besides being a perfect little tyrant. But they do not remain so. They have simply beautiful character arcs. And then there's Dickon. The animal charmer, the boy who spends all his time on the moor. I always loved Dickon. Actually, I once named a character after him. Colin too.
The garden. There is such charm in a garden all locked away and overgrown, such beauty in transforming it by one's own hands. I still want a secret garden of my own. No garden will ever be satisfactory if not just like that one. Though with no Ben Weatherstaff of my own, it still wouldn't be the same.
There are mysteries about Misselthwaite Manor. It is such a large old house, so shut up, with so many things hidden. Like the crying. "There was someone crying. There was!" And old Mr. Craven, who is rarely at home. He is a strange person, with a hurtful past. Still the mention of hunchbacks makes me think of him. And of Colin.
The Secret Garden is such a well written book. The characters feel so real. The settings are so intriguing. The writing draws the reader in. Writing about it and flipping through my copy reminds me so much of my childhood and my love of this fantastic book. It is waiting for me. Misselthwaite Manor and the Secret Garden call.