Spiritual books for kids [and moms]: The Secret Garden


When it comes to writing about The Secret Garden, it’s hard to know where to start.  I could talk about how the book is largely responsible for turning me into a hard-core, lifelong Anglophile.  (The Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild played a  part in this obsession, too.)  I could explain how it’s the story that first introduced me to  Gothic literature, to the eerie deliciousness of a huge English manor house with winding passageways and cries in the night.  I could wax lyrical about the edition I had as a child, with iconic illustrations by Tasha Tudor: the picture showing Mary Lennox breathlessly turning the key in the ivy-framed door, the pastoral image of the country boy Dickon sitting on the grass, surrounded by woodland creatures, the scene where Mary discovers the invalid Colin, his head lit up in an unearthly candlelit glow.

Or I could talk about the story of this book, one that held me spellbound the Christmas that I was ten.  An orphan girl is sent to a cold forbidding Yorkshire manor house, where she discovers the walled garden that has been shut up for a decade.  She finds the key, goes inside, and discovers that although the garden may look brown and abandoned,  it’s not dead; there are green shoots coming up through the carpet of dead leaves, and the roses are “wick,” alive.  With the help of one and then two and then three friends, she secretly tends the garden and brings it to joyous, colorful, vibrant lushness.  And in the process, her own cramped soul expands and grows into happiness.  A sickly boy learns to walk again, and a remote, depressed father learns to embrace life, not run from it.   It all happens because of a garden that once seemed dead but which holds in its soil a potential for healing that no one in the book could have foreseen.

And really, it’s this spiritual message that makes this book so moving to me now, almost thirty years after I first lost myself in its pages.   Isn’t that the Christian story right there? — out of death, there is life; out of despair, hope.  Nothing — and no one — is too far gone to be reclaimed and brought to his or her fullest, most beautiful potential.  It’s a message that  I see every spring in the garden, as I watch the roses that were once barren and stubby explode into color and fragrance.  I could live to be five hundred, and I’d never get bored by that.  Every single spring, it thrills me to watch the slow return of those shiny reddish-green leaves, then the buds, then the petals, all pushed into being by some force that I can’t see but which feels, every time, like a miracle happening just outside my windows.

This book celebrates that force, that miracle, in all of its manifestations.  And the characters all hunger for that miracle, whether they are conscious of it or not.   They all long for Life, and by the close of the book, they’ve found it.

And there is no happier ending than that.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  To read more about the Spiritual Books series of posts, click here.

5 Responses to Spiritual books for kids [and moms]: The Secret Garden

  1. Oh Ginny! I love this book so much and it too had an influence on my own Anglophile leanings! (And I liked that the author’s name was Frances!!)

    The celebration of life that comes forth, seemingly out of the most barren places is the most beautiful thing. A happy ending, a happy middle and a beginning that reminds us that surprise and hope hold many treasures.

  2. Fran, I keep thinking more and more that you and I are kindred spirits … big Mary fans, big Secret Garden fans … do you also love the music of ABBA and old “Cheers” sitcoms? 🙂 If so, it’ll be positively spooky!

  3. Cue spooky music here… 🙂 I love it!

  4. I loved this book! As a I child I ceaselessly searched our yard for the possibility of such a place…sometimes creating my own miniature version between a tree gathering of sorts. I obviously never actually found an English garden (Miami is lacking in such things), but, what fond memories I have of being so lost in the story and learning to keep my eyes open for the possibility of a new bud or sapling poking its way through the grass…a sign of hope that I might have found my garden! 🙂

  5. I love that memory, Victoria — sounds like the kind of thing I did as a kid. 🙂 And have you read “The Forgotten Garden”? There is an homage to Frances Hodgson Burnett in the story …. very fun for fans like us.