Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This review is dedicated to my mom who passed away a year ago last week. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was given to her by a teacher when she had polio as a young girl. It remained Mom's favorite book and she often read it to me.

For those living at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, finding a secret garden, and getting in touch with the earth and nature, is a life changing experience for them. Not only does the garden heal personal wounds but it brings about magical transformation to the lives of those who enter its walls. As the author suggests, however, there's magic to be found inside each of us with the energy of positive thinking.
"...thoughts, just mere thoughts, are as powerful as electric batteries--as good for one as sunlight is or as bad for one as poison."
The secret garden has been locked and not tended to for ten years. It takes three children to unlock its treasures. Mary discovers the key and gives the garden new life with the help of her friend, Dickon. In the process they share their discovery with Colin who is Mary's cousin. He has been ill and unable to walk. With their encouragement, and the discovery of nature and seeing things grow, Colin eventually recovers.

Where are the adults? The owner of Misselthwaite is a sad man who still mourns the death of his wife ten years earlier. Mary is sent to live on this dreary estate after her parents die in India. At Misselthwaite she also meets Dickon who is the brother of Mary's housekeeper. Dickon is the opposite of Colin and is a boy who loves animals, nature and plants. Once Mary finds the garden and shares her discovery with Dickon, he influences positive change in her life and in Colin's.

When this book was written (almost a 100 years ago) the word, "queer" must have been fashionable. It's used frequently in The Secret Garden.
"Am I queer?" Colin demanded. "Yes" answered Mary, "very." "But you needn't be cross," she added impartially, "because so am I queer--and so is Ben. But I'm not as queer as I was before I began to like people and before I found the garden."
I also liked the description of Mary's late mother, "she had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with gay people." Now that's my kind of person!

Whenever I read The Secret Garden I think of Mom. I believe this book inspired her to get well when she was sick with polio. She reminds me of Mary; very strong willed and determined. When Mom shared The Secret Garden with me, it became a life long gift and one that continues to connect me to her spirit.

The author's message to plant the seed of positive thought is never out of date. Just like a garden needs love to grow, so do we need love and connection to each other (and the earth) to grow. 

If you have read The Secret Garden, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts of the book and its meaning to you.

Rating: Mom would be unhappy if I gave this anything less than a "5/5" or A.

Book Notes:

The inspiration for The Secret Garden came from the author's residence at Great Maytham Hall in England. She lived there from 1898 to 1907 and discovered a walled garden on the estate dating back to the 1700's.

When in NYC, visit the memorial fountain in Central Park dedicated to Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Free Audio download and free On-Line version of The Secret Garden is available.

Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in England in 1849 and emigrated to the United States in 1865. She died at age 75 and was a practitioner of Christian Science.

FTC Disclosure: I'd like to tell you the author sent me a review copy with a packet of flower seeds. Since the author passed away in 1924, however, I think my FTC buddies might suspect something is amiss. The truth is I purchased my copy of The Secret Garden at a library book sale. I wish I still had my Mom's book but I think she must have given it away at some point in her later years.


  1. How cool to dedicate a review to your mom! I read The Secret Garden when I was a kid...I barely remember the story, but I do remember the cover. I used to imagine myself in a secret garden just like the one on the cover!

    And my dad had polio as a kid, too. He was in the iron lung contraption, and leg braces, but made a full recovery. It's weird how you hear so much about polio, but it's rare to hear about anyone who actually had it.

  2. I read it as a kid too, and loved it. I remember we also had an audio version on tape player we used to play in the car.

    My mother wont lend me the copy that we read as a child because it holds special memories for her - but these memories are that she remembers how much I loved it as a child so she wants to hold onto that memory.

    I will definitely re-read this now

  3. It's been way too long since I read this book. I don't reread too much, but this one would be worth it. Thanks for the refresher Rob.

  4. love that you dedicated this review to your mom--so sweet and a lovely tribute.

    now, on to the bad news: i have never read this book! i know, i know. it's shocking and unacceptable for me, an avid reader from childhood, to admit such a thing. i might have to pick it up, though, because your synopsis piqued my interest. :)

    one more thing--i love the 'book notes' section of your review. such a great idea.

  5. What a sweet tribute to your mother. I didn't read this book until I was in my 30s. And I loved it.

  6. Thomas: I'm glad you liked the book. Whenever I think of The Secret Garden it brings back Mom.

    Nat: This is the first time I did book notes; glad you like. I thought it was interesting that the author had actually discovered a secret garden on an estate in England. Hope you enjoy your first time with the book.

    Diane: I think this is the only book that I've read multiple times. It's been over 40 years between Secret Garden visits.

    Becky: With the 100th year approaching since publication, I wonder if there will be many re-reads this coming year.

    Jill: That's interesting about your dad. My mom could never lift her left arm after the disease so the memory stayed with her. I have a feeling Mom would have liked the tribute too.

    Aloha and thanks for commenting!


  7. I didn't know that about the author. And I haven't read this book in so long that I didn't remember the usage of "queer" and "gay." I'm sure it would seem a little jarring to the modern reader, but like anything else, easy to get used to after a few pages (just like books that have their own slang).

  8. Rats! I always read this book in March, and now it's April. As soon as I finish Julia Child's "My Life In France," I'm hauling out the Secret Garden. (Can "A Little Princess" be far behind?)

    (P.S. I'm planting my snow peas tomorrow!)


Aloha! Thanks for taking time to talk story. Your comment will be posted soon.

Ho'ola'i na manu i ke aheahe

"The birds poise quietly in the gentle breeze."
Said of those who are at peace with the world, undisturbed and contented.