The Secret Garden

By frances hodgson burnett.

'The Secret Garden' manages to be both an innocent tale involving a few kids and a powerful lesson applicable to adults.

Israel Njoku

Article written by Israel Njoku

Degree in M.C.M with focus on Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Asides from being intriguing and soul-nourishing, the book is a mixture of spirituality, mystery, and emotions. It piques your imagination and the characters are relatable. It also closes on a happy and fulfilling note.

A Well-Written Story with a Potent Message

Frances Burnett , at the beginning of the book, introduces us to the character of Mary Lennox . Born to a wealthy family in India and described as being ugly, bad-mannered, and sour, Mary starts the book in a very disagreeable place to the readers. She is described as having a little thin face, a little thin body, thin light hair, and a sour expression. She is said to be a sickly child whose father was always busy and her mother had not wanted a child. Hence, she abandons her after she’s born. 

The reader will be disgusted that Mary’s mother, who was more interested in parties than children, had not taken the necessary measures to prevent herself from having them. She had birthed one, then comfortably ignored her. Mary Lennox had her Ayah tending to her needs, but a servant could only train her boss’s daughter to a certain level. She couldn’t be stern with her, so Mary grew up to be unreasonably spoilt and unpleasant. 

‘ The Secret Garden ‘ speaks on the importance of one’s environment. The people you relate with daily determine your attitude, especially when you are young and impressionable. When the only people she has around her are her nonchalant mother and extremely busy father, it is no surprise that Mary turns out uncouth and selfish. But when she moves to her uncle’s manor and relates with the no-nonsense but lovely Martha Sowerby, the kind Susan Sowerby, and the reliable Dickon Sowerby,  she is impacted positively. This is the same for her cousin, Colin Craven. The haughty child meets people with better views of life, and he soon stops his negative thoughts. He becomes ambitious and confident. When he makes it to the garden, his healing is magical and complete. The magic of good company, positive thoughts, and the garden rests upon him. 

The book was written in the third person, and the readers can see from the lens of the ten-year-old how people change with the right motivation. ‘The Secret Garden’ takes its readers through a whirl of emotions ranging from irritation, to the gloom, and, finally, bliss . You might not own a garden, but you feel like you do when you walk in Mary and Dickon’s shoes.  The book achieves a warm, earthly sensation through the deceptively skillful use of simple but realistic dialogues and narration. Stimulated by a potent narrative grace and technique, the reader comes as close as he can get to smelling the Yorkshire air himself, and basking in the healing power of a quaint garden brought back to life.

The book is one of those rare ones that manage to achieve that balance between being simple and relatable enough for children while containing great lessons for adults. Although this is so obviously a children’s book, the author’s campaign for positivity and optimism feels potent and relatable to adults too.

Mr Archibald Craven might be older and wiser, but it took the free-spiritedness and determination of his child and ward to bring that ray of warmth and positivity back into the life of his erstwhile quiet, gloomy and uneventful Manor. The lesson here is similar to the intentions of Jesus when he instructed his disciples to let the children come to him; maybe if we want to find genuine happiness, we have to think and act like children.

A Sad Childhood

Mary is a young girl who only saw her mother once in a while. She is practically raised by servants. This allowed her the opportunity to become tyrannical, selfish, and bad-mannered. She is quite lonely, too. 

If you think Mary has it rough, you should meet Colin. He is the same age and all he has ever felt is sadness.  Condemned to death by some of the people who nurse him and his father, he lives his life constantly waiting for death to come. On days when the servants do not attend to him the way he wants, he screams the house down. He is so spoilt that there’s a possibility some of the servants hoped for his demise. Colin who is abandoned by his only living parent is believed to be a hopeless invalid. He never goes out of his bedroom in Misselthwaite Manor. He never had the opportunity to inhale the fresh air and freedom of the Yorkshire moors until he meets Mary and then Dickon.  The meeting of these two kids marks a turning point in his life. 

A Case for the Supernatural

Frances Burnett had subtly challenged science with magic. Colin’s uncle, Dr. Craven, is in charge of his recovery. As much as he would have liked, he is unable to pointedly say what is wrong with his patient.  He makes guesses and is sometimes left in a state of surprise at Colin’s well-being. Until Colin is taken to the garden that is believed to possess magical powers, his ailment remains a mystery. In the garden, he gains clarity. He becomes positive. He takes steps away from his wheelchair. He walks. 

‘ The Secret Garde n’ book also talks about the importance of nature and plants. Nature is shown to be what gave the children the will and strength to live better lives. It ultimately is their ticket to psychological, then physical healing. Frances Burnett because of her belief in pastoral ways had linked outdoor activities and gardening to happiness and good health. In the bool, Dickon Sowerby has a special love for nature, as well as animals and he is described as the kindest of the children. He is also loyal, outspoken, and reliable. These qualities make Colin and Mary admire him greatly. 

Most of the books written by Frances Burnett are aimed at creating happiness. She also successfully passed the message that wealth was not all a child needed to be happy. Mary and Colin’s parents were more affluent than the Sowerbys but were not as happy or well-mannered. If anything, these kids were the first basic teacher’s Mary and Colin had. 

The Secret Garden Review: An innocent, simple but potent children's story

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett Digital Art

Book Title: The Secret Garden

Book Description: 'The Secret Garden' tells the tale of a girl's transformative discovery of a garden, illustrating the power of positivity through vivid descriptions and dynamic characters.

Book Author: Frances Hodgsen Burnett

Book Edition: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

Book Format: Hardcover

Publisher - Organization: Penguin Classics

Date published: May 29, 2018

Illustrator: Maria Pini

ISBN: 978-0-14-353801-3

Number Of Pages: 384

  • Writing style
  • Lasting effect on reader

The Secret Garden Review

‘The Secret Garden’ is an innocent, simple but potent children’s story about how a little girl’s discovery of an abandoned garden leads to a profound change in her life and that of those around her. The author utilizes a simple story to advance her thesis about the near-magical power of positive thinking. The book shines in its ability to make the world around come alive through rich, colorful, and realistic descriptions, as well as realistic dialogues. The book makes use of interesting characters who undergo changes throughout the duration of the book. With harmless simplicity and a potent lesson about life, ‘ The Secret Garden’ manages to appeal to both the old and young alike.

  • A children’s book that manages to be also suitable for adults
  • Realistic dialogues
  • Strong characterisation
  • Great moral lessons
  • Seems to advance the cause of pseudoscientific theories about longer-term effects of positive mental states.
  • A large chunk of the dialogue features the use of hard to understand local dialects and slangs

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Israel Njoku

About Israel Njoku

Israel loves to delve into rigorous analysis of themes with broader implications. As a passionate book lover and reviewer, Israel aims to contribute meaningful insights into broader discussions.


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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - review

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (Vintage Children's Classics)

This book can be read by anyone over 9, advanced readers at around 7 or 8.

The Secret Garden is about a particularly arrogant and unpleasant girl called Mary Lennox. At the start of the book, she lives in India, but is forced to leave for her uncle's mansion in England in order to escape a devastating outbreak of cholera. The book is about how the discovery of a secret garden transforms the character of Mary and another character in the book.

I really liked the book, as it was fascinating to see Mary change from a horrible, spoiled brat to a sweet-hearted girl. The best scene was probably when Mary first finds the garden that was hidden for a decade, as the description left such a clear image in my mind. This book is a classic that your parents have probably read, but don't let that put you off! It is an intriguing read, despite the few slow bits in the book. I would probably give it 8.5 out of ten. It is not a fancy book for girls, despite the title. This is definitely a book for either gender! I would not recommend this book for people who do not care for nature, as there is a lot of description about flowers and trees and so on. On the other hand, it could change your mind about it! This is a must-read for people who are interested about nature, but other readers would enjoy it too.

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The secret garden, common sense media reviewers.

book review on the secret garden

Classic novel inspires love of nature.

The Secret Garden Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Readers will learn the names of plants and flowers

Like gardens, children need lots of care, fresh ai

Martha and her mother's easy, down-to-earth ways h

Mary recalls that when she lived in India, she sla

Racist references to "the blacks" (i.e. natives of

Early in the book, Mary drinks a glass of wine tha

Parents need to know that Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden is a beautifully written book about two selfish, disagreeable English cousins -- Mary and Colin -- whose lives and dispositions are transformed when they find their way into a locked, walled garden. Friendship and the restorative powers of…

Educational Value

Readers will learn the names of plants and flowers (rose, lilac, daffodil, crocus, etc.), the difference between seeds and bulbs, and how to tell when a dormant plant is coming back to life in spring. They'll also learn a bit about the lifestyle of English aristocrats at the turn of the 20th century and how poorly colonizers treated India and its people.

Positive Messages

Like gardens, children need lots of care, fresh air, and sunshine to blossom. Friendship and nature are healing, as is learning to take care of yourself.

Positive Role Models

Martha and her mother's easy, down-to-earth ways help Mary develop her love of nature and compassion for other creatures. Dickon (age 12) also sets a nice example, especially for boys, with his love and respect, and almost magical affinity, for all living things. Colin and Mary both grow in significant ways over the course of the story, changing from being selfish and demanding to generous, open, and supportive. Mary's experiences in India reflect the country's history as a place that was unjustly colonized; she speaks about the people there in a patronizing, racist way.

Violence & Scariness

Mary recalls that when she lived in India, she slapped her Ayah (nursemaid) whenever she was angry. Ben Weatherstaff talks about a man who got drunk and beat his wife. Mary's parents die early in the book, leaving her orphaned. Characters argue.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Racist references to "the blacks" (i.e. natives of India).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Early in the book, Mary drinks a glass of wine that an adult left unfinished; it puts her to sleep. Ben Weatherstaff tells the children about a man who went to the pub and got "drunk as a lord."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Frances Hodgson Burnett 's The Secret Garden is a beautifully written book about two selfish, disagreeable English cousins -- Mary and Colin -- whose lives and dispositions are transformed when they find their way into a locked, walled garden. Friendship and the restorative powers of nature help the children gain good spirits and health. For generations, this 1909 novel has inspired a love of nature and simple pleasures in young readers. That said, it includes some racist ideas about class, colonization, and Indian people. Indians are referred to as "natives" and "blacks," and Mary is angry and insulted when she's compared to them. Mary also takes an unkind, superior attitude toward servants and recalls losing her temper and slapping her Ayah (Indian nursemaid). Early in the novel, Mary's parents and many servants in the household die of cholera, leaving 10-year-old Mary alone. With no one to care for her, Mary becomes thirsty, drinks an abandoned glass of wine from her parents' dining table, and goes to sleep. Alcohol is mentioned again when the groundskeeper at Misselthwaite manor, Ben Weatherstaff, talks about another man being "drunk as a lord" and beating his wife. The Secret Garden has been made into a few different movie versions, including a 2020 adaptation starring Dixie Egerickx as Mary and Colin Firth as her uncle.

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  • Kids say (35)

Based on 14 parent reviews

Classic, but beware is a product of its time

What's the story.

Francis Hodgson Burnett's classic novel THE SECRET GARDEN begins in India, which at the turn of the 20th century was still part of the British Empire. Ten-year-old Mary Lennox has been living there with her parents, though her father is rarely present and her mother is most interested in dinner parties, so Mary's main caretaker has been her Ayah (nursemaid). Mary's parents and many of the servants in their household die of cholera, and the adults who survive flee the house, leaving Mary alone and unaware of what has happened. She's later discovered and sent to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor, where she's rude to the household staff. She's at once spoiled and lost in a world of new customs and expectations. However, she's encouraged to spend time "out of doors," and the fresh air does her good. Her appetite begins to improve, and so does her temperament. She really turns a corner when she meets Dickon, the younger brother of one of the housemaids. Dickon has an innate, almost magical, connection to the natural world, and he inspires in Mary a fascination with plants and animals. Meanwhile, Mary discovers there's another child living in the house: a boy whose foul disposition reminds her of her former self. Mary shares with her new friends the story she's heard about a secret walled garden that was locked 10 years ago, after a tragedy occurred there. When Mary finds the long-buried key to the garden, the children set about bringing it back to life, and they blossom right along with it.

so monstrously spoiled that no one can stand them and they can hardly stand themselves. With the help of a boy of the moors and some natural magic, they discover an abandoned garden and return it to abundance. As the garden grows the children grow -- into their own better selves.

Is It Any Good?

For generations, this wonderful novel has inspired young readers to appreciate simple earthly pleasures like skipping rope, planting seeds and watching plants grow, and coming home to a hot meal. At the same time, The Secret Garden appeals to children's imaginations with its mysteries of cries in the night and the secret walled garden. Readers will also be entertained by Mary and Colin's bratty behavior, and then their growing friendship.

Though some characters express outdated and/or racist attitudes, readers are meant to understand that unkindness and disrespect are wrong. It also makes the novel ripe for discussing colonialist prejudice. And the story intriguingly equates nurturing the neglected garden with restoring the health and vibrancy of the youngsters. This classic has been made into a few film versions , including a 2020 adaptation directed by Marc Munden.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the two cousins in The Secret Garden . Why are Mary and Colin so disagreeable at first? What helps them behave better?

What are some things that Mary and Colin have in common?

What would you grow in your own garden if you had one?

Book Details

  • Author : Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Illustrator : Tasha Tudor
  • Genre : Fantasy
  • Topics : Friendship , Science and Nature
  • Book type : Fiction
  • Publisher : HarperCollins Children's Books
  • Publication date : January 1, 1911
  • Number of pages : 368
  • Available on : Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated : September 25, 2020

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REVIEW: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

book review on the secret garden

Dear Readers,

As a child, I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It’s considered a classic novel and is the story of children beginning to blossom as they bring a locked, abandoned garden to life.

book review on the secret garden

I was introduced to Burnett via a serialized reading of Little Lord Fauntleroy that was part of a children’s hour radio broadcast I listened to as a young child in Israel (yes, I got my childhood programs from the radio as well as the television). I looked forward to those broadcasts with bated breath and I still remember the song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” which bracketed the radio readings of Little Lord Fauntleroy .

Sometime in the past couple of years I revisited Little Lord Fauntleroy and was stunned by how bad it was: quite possibly the most treacly book I have ever read, poorly researched, and racist. Had I reviewed it here, I would have given it a big fat F. My expectations of The Secret Garden , my favorite Burnett novel in childhood, dropped at that time, but I thought that the book could not possibly be as bad as Little Lord Fauntleroy . For one thing, I remembered that the novel’s main character, Mary Lennox, was not an idealized, sugary, Marty Stu figure like Cedric, the eponymous Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The recent pandemic outbreak seemed like a good time to test that theory. The stress and anxiety has made me more amenable to reading something simple and potentially heartwarming. Some of my suppositions were correct; The Secret Garden is considerably better crafted than Little Lord Fauntleroy . But in other ways I was wrong.

The novel begins when nine-year-old Mary Lennox loses her parents to cholera. Mary is a spoiled and surly child living in India (no more specific location is given) when her home is struck with the illness. Mary’s parents and her Ayah (nursery maid) die, other servants desert the house, and the orphaned Mary is discovered utterly alone by two soldiers who come in to see if anyone has been left alive.

After a brief sojourn with a clergyman’s family (the children of the household mock her stubborn, angry demeanor by dubbing her “Mistress Mary, quite contrary,”) she is sent to her uncle’s Yorkshire country house. Mr. Craven, her uncle, is largely absent and his household is run by his housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, who picks up Mary in London and conveys her to her new home.

Mrs. Medlock doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she expects Mary to dress herself and amuse herself on her own (not wholly believable but I went with it), something Mary is unused to. Martha, a young Yorkshire maid, serves Mary a bit, chattering and catching Mary’s reluctant interest.

At first Mary is furious at being treated in such a way; she is arrogant and expects everyone to kowtow to her (we’re told more than once that her Indian servants did her bidding with alacrity).

As the days go on, though, Mary realizes she’ll have to find a way to fill up her time on her own. Martha gives her a jump rope encourages her to seek out the gardens; Mary does, and discovers the location of the “secret garden” Martha has mentioned to her.

The garden has been locked for a decade, Mary learns—ever since Mr. Craven’s late wife was badly injured when she fell off one of the garden’s trees. When she subsequently died, Mr. Craven could not bear the place, once his wife’s favorite spot. He locked the walled garden and buried the key. No one knows where it’s buried. Even more mysteriously, the garden appears to have no door.

Mary becomes acquainted with a handful of people one by one, and very gradually her circle of acquaintances, and not only that, of people she likes, widens. Martha is the first person Mary grows slightly fond of, then Ben Weatherstaff, a grumpy gardener, and a robin he likes. After that Deacon, Martha’s twelve-year-old brother, who can literally charm birds out of trees.

One day, the robin leads Mary to dig around in the soil at a particular spot, and she finds the key to the garden. Later she discovers the door, hidden under a thick cluster of ivy. She wonders if the garden is truly as dead as it appears to be, and begins to weed it, keeping her possession of the key to herself. The garden is a forbidden place, after all.

Mary’s friend Deacon is without a doubt an idealized figure, at times to an eye-rolling degree. He attracts animals and can make any plant thrive. He has tamed a crow and two squirrels (all three take turns sitting on his shoulders), a fox cub and a lamb. He can even speak to the robin in its own chirpy language. Mary lets Deacon in on her secret, and he begins to work in the garden with her.

Working in the garden and skipping with the jump rope strengthens Mary’s muscles. Whereas once she had a sallow complexion and a pinched expression and pecked at her food, now her appetite grows, her skin takes on a healthy glow, her eyes and her cheeks brighten. She loses her sullen demeanor and the people she likes come to like her in return.

On a particularly windy night, Mary hears a childish cry in a distant part of the house. Martha tells Mary that she has mistaken the howling of the wind for a human sound. On another occasion, while exploring the house, Mary hears another such cry and approaches the room it originates from. But Mrs. Medlock catches her and forbids her from encroaching on that part of the house.

Who is the child crying in the night? Can Mary and Deacon bring him or her to life and good health, much as the garden has brought Mary to both? And what will happen when Mr. Craven comes home and discovers the secret garden in bloom?

I can see why The Secret Garden is considered a classic—the concept of the children’s bodies and spirits healing as they awaken a nearly magical garden is not only heartwarming but also has an almost mythical air. There is more than a touch of the fantastical to this book, but most of the magic in it can be explained and viewed as natural rather than supernatural. Much of this is simplistic. Neither the major characters or the natural world have much complexity. But this is a children’s book, so I didn’t necessarily expect complexity.

The one human character who might be said to exist on the other side of the natural / supernatural divide is Deacon—he is a human boy, so we’re told, but he has capacities no boy can possess in reality. No creature, no matter how shy or secretive, can fail to trust him. There were times when I couldn’t suspend my disbelief where he was concerned.

Fortunately, Mary, being a more flawed and therefore more believable character, balances him out, as does the child who cries out in the night. Mary’s transformation is at the core of the novel. It’s easy to want to read more in order to see how she changes, even as she changes the garden. Still, the book approaches sappiness.

The book is also horribly racist. Indians are othered to an extreme degree, from beginning to end. In the very first chapter, the Lennox family’s Indian servants are portrayed as hard to fathom.

At that very moment such a loud sound of wailing broke out from the servants’ quarters that she [Mary’s mother] clutched the young man’s arm, and Mary stood shivering from head to foot. The wailing grew wilder and wilder. “What is it? What is it?” Mrs. Lennox gasped.

The “natives” (a word that seems pejorative to me) are portrayed without dimension. Multifaceted desires, needs, emotions and skills are absent from their characterizations. They are not given names or personalities, either.

Contrasting the maid Martha and the servants Mary had in India, the novel’s omniscient narrator tells us: “This was plain speaking and Mary Lennox had never heard the truth about herself in her life. Native servants always salaamed and submitted to you, whatever you did.”

Even the climate in India is a monolith in this book, with no distinction from season to season or place to place:

“I can’t help thinking about what it will look like,” he answered. “The garden?” asked Mary. “The springtime,” he said. “I was thinking that I’ve really never seen it before. I scarcely ever went out and when I did go I never looked at it. I didn’t even think about it.” “I never saw it in India because there wasn’t any,” said Mary.

A line drawn is from India’s stifling heat to Mary’s initial ill-health and sallow complexion, and another from Mary’s newfound haleness and well-being to the salutary effects of the crisp Yorkshire air.

Worst of all is the dehumanizing of Indians. In one scene, after Martha tells Mary that she’d expected her to be an Indian child, we get this:

Mary sat up in bed furious. “What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!” Martha stared and looked hot. “Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.” Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation. “You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”

If not for the racism, I might have been swept up in the quiet magic worked by the secret garden and the Yorkshire moors. I was able to not only read to the end but to turn pages pretty well, considering that the book has a leisurely pace. I was able to compartmentalize and enjoy the story to a degree. But not entirely–my mind ping-ponged from the comforting calm of the garden to the awful bigotry.

This is a hard book to grade because I can see why it’s a classic to some and why others will find it offensive. To an extent I felt nostalgic due to my childhood enchantment with it. Splicing these factors together brings me to a grade of D/C-.

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book review on the secret garden

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven novels in romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Examples include novels by Ilona Andrews, Mary Balogh, Aster Glenn Gray, Helen Hoang, Piper Huguley, Lisa Kleypas, Jeannie Lin, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Naomi Novik, Nalini Singh, and Megan Whalen Turner. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

book review on the secret garden

I’m not sure if the concept was original with her, but in Jo Walton’s WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT, she talks about the “suck fairy” who arrives when you’re not looking and sucks all of the fun and joy from your favorite childhood books. Of course, as an adult you’re seeing things and are aware of things that as a child went right over your head. Other than the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books (and even they include some eyebrow-raising “othering”), I’ve never had much success rereading books I loved as a child. I know I wouldn’t dare venture to rereading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books now, although I loved them as a kid. Sometimes it’s best to leave certain doors locked.

book review on the secret garden

@ DiscoDollyDeb : I pretty much had every word of the entire “Little House on the Prairie” books memorized as a child, but after reading several biographies about Laura Ingalls Wilder that highlighted how she portrayed Native Americans and black people, I can’t bring myself to open them again. I was sad but in agreement when the children’s book award named after her was changed.

book review on the secret garden

I can’t remember if I read this as a kid or not – I kind of think not? I remember we had a copy of A Little Princess but I don’t remember if I read that either, though I kind of remember the movie (Shirley Temple, I think?).

Was there any sense that Mary’s horrible attitude towards the “natives” was part and parcel with her bad and bratty attitude early on? That would be the only thing that might redeem it a little for me. But it doesn’t sound like she repented, anyway.

I just finished reading Little Women, and while I didn’t catch much overt racism in it (there’s a boy simply referred to as a “quadroon” late in the book), the sexism and the treacliness made it hard to enjoy. I’m undecided on what grade to give it.

book review on the secret garden

@ DiscoDollyDeb : I’ve heard of term “suck fairy” but didn’t know Jo Walton used it and that possibly it originated with her. What Makes This Book So Great sounds like an interesting book. The suck fairy has definitely visited The Secret Garden .

@ SusanS : I had the entire set of Little House books on the shelf for a long time but threw them all out about ten years ago for the same reasons.

@ Jennie : Yes and no. Mary’s attitude toward Indians does seem to be an extension of her behavior but there is also an underlying sentiment (conveyed by the omniscient narrator) that life in India is what her horribleness originated from in the first place.

book review on the secret garden

Childhood books that stood the test of time for me the blue sword and beauty by mckinley, not traumatic to re read but less magical as an adult, daddy long legs (probably the start of my love of romance) I wonder about a winkle in time and the other L’engle books?

@ Sue : Ones that hold up well are A. A. Milne’s classics, Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner . I have heard from friends that Madeleine L’Engle’s books don’t hold up well, but I have no idea if this because they are offensive or for a different reason.

book review on the secret garden

Having read A Wrinkle in Time not long ago, it mostly just seemed more Jesusy than I remembered, and also just somehow slighter than I remembered. I looked up Walton’s essay on the Suck Fairy, and it’s the “water gate” phenomenon–some of what I remembered from the book was actually from my head.

Winnie the Pooh,somehow not surprised! Kelly’s comment is interesting, I wonder how often that happens with me now… very philosophical, we read different books even when we read the exact same book…

@Sue: two of my favorite sayings regarding reading are: (1) No two people ever read the same book. And (2) You never read the same book twice—because you’re always a different person the next time you pick it up.

@ DiscoDollyDeb : I remember that historical romance author Judith Ivory (what happened to her?) used to say that a novel was a collaboration between the author’s imagination and the reader’s. That is one of the best remarks I’ve heard said about reading. IMO when a book is hurtful, offensive or even just strikes a very jarring note, the two imaginations are decoupled. The reader’s balks and says, “I won’t follow you there, author.”

book review on the secret garden

Very interesting book my son loves reading.

book review on the secret garden

I think I am confused about what people expected from this book given it’s history. It was written in 1911 when the rulers of England were still considered “The Emperor and Empress of India”. The author has a racist bias that a huge amount of people had at the time but she is also writing about a girl with two horrible, nasty, selfish and racist parents. It’s no wonder Mary is a mess. She has a mother who is so shallow she’s not interested in her daughter because she isn’t cute enough. I always understood Mary sees the servants in India through a mirror of her parents -including her father (who is an embodiment of British oppression if India as he is a military officer). I’m sure they treated their servants as slaves and Mary does as well. There is no sense that the author even thinks Imperialism is a good thing. Mary’s parents die from Cholera there and Mary is literally expelled from India.

Mary Lennox is horrible across the board for a good part of this novel. She is literally described as “as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.” That’s about as harsh as you are going to get hearing about the child “heroine” of a book. There’s no sense the author is approving or condoning any of Mary’s ideas.

From the minute we meet Martha it’s clear she is not a racist and was very happy and excited to think Mary will be something other than white. Mary treats, or tries to treat, her as horribly as she did the servants in India (presumably learned from her awful parents) but that isn’t going to work on Martha as she isn’t living in “Imperial” India.

Every depiction of India is seen from the bitter and sour Mary’s eyes. She hates everything about it as it encapsulates all her ugly feelings about life with her parents. She is the one who says there is no spring there, because for her there wasn’t any friendship, love or good feelings. In India she was the ugly, unwanted daughter of two selfish, shallow people.

There are a lot of other disturbing contemporary ideas, apart from the racism. The way Colin speaks to the 70 year old gardener telling him he is the master there when his father is gone and he must obey him. Mary gets around Colin’s bossiness and imperiousness because he’s a child, ill, sheltered and somewhat dependent on her for part of the book, but the truth is when he’s older he is going to be calling the shots in her life in most ways. Edwardian England has a hierarchy just as much as Imperial India does and if you are wealthy and male and powerful you can lock your children away, ignore them and pretty much do what you want. As much as Mary “claims” the garden she discovers (one could argue like the British “claimed” India) it’s not hers just as in the end, India wasn’t Great Britain’s to “take”.

I think when reading any work that reflects the ideas of its time, it’s very valuable to examine to understand the mindset of the author and the people it depicts. I would no more throw away Frances Hodgson Burnett or Laura Ingalls Wilder than I would Shakespeare because I don’t like all of his attitudes or depictions.

Trying to ignore that people you may have liked if you had met them had racist views is ignoring history. I don’t think anything would help children to understand how insidious racism is can be explained better than a conversation about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her works. How she was a strong intelligent and capable woman but who held racist ideas about Native Americans she learned from her parents. That these were pervasive ideas held by a lot of white people, including settlers who wanted Native American land, and it helped the systematic destruction of Native Americans. Putting Laura Ingalls Wilder in her historical context, flaws and all, while examining that shameful part of US history would have stuck in my mind as a child more than any regular history lesson could have.

We wouldn’t expect a reading of Huckleberry Finn without examining the truly disturbing parts of it and the attitudes of people of that era. It would be like reading it in a vacuum. I don’t think we can do less with other works that still hold value today.

@ Chrisreader : That’s a well-made argument and a debate worth having.

There is room to argue that most of the book’s depictions of India are seen “from the bitter and sour Mary’s eyes.“ Some clearly are and others are open to interpretation. But not every one fits into these two categories. For example, from the first page, when Mary is introduced by the narrator, “ Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India […].”

Later on in the book, there’s also this:

Living as it were, all by herself in a house with a hundred mysteriously closed rooms and having nothing whatever to do to amuse herself, had set her inactive brain to working and was actually awakening her imagination. There is no doubt that the fresh, strong, pure air from the moor had a great deal to do with it. Just as it had given her an appetite, and fighting with the wind had stirred her blood, so the same things had stirred her mind. In India she had always been too hot and languid and weak to care much about anything, but in this place she was beginning to care and to want to do new things. Already she felt less “contrary,” though she did not know why.

Clearly this implication that being in India prevented her mind from stirring and caused her not to care much about anything is not in Mary’s thoughts, because the narrator’s. “[…] though she did not know why,” signals otherwise—the narrator explains why, but Mary doesn’t know why.

Martha’s desire to see what she calls a black (Indian) may not be overtly critical of India and Indians but it is othering.

Further, there are ways to signal to readers that a character’s POV is inaccurate, but Burnett doesn’t use them in the book.

Yes, racist beliefs were widespread at the time the book was written. But there are different degrees of racism. For example, I’m Jewish and I find Shakespeare’s depiction of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice a lot less offensive than Heyer’s depiction of Goldhanger in The Grand Sophy, though both are Jewish moneylenders who will not forgive a debt even under extenuating circumstances.

Shylock is a character with some dimension—he shares his POV with the audience and gives an argument that antisemitism is what influences him. Goldhanger is less nuanced and motivated by greed, not by anger that he feels is righteous. He not only demands his money back and threatens Sophie’s brother, he also behaves lecherously with Sophie (an implication that he is planning to exploit her brother’s death to force her into some kind of sexual contact) and is described has having greasy hair and (in the original 1950 edition) “a Semitic nose.”

Lastly, I can only review a book from my own perspective, and not anyone else’s. So of course my attitudes (informed by life in the 20th and 21st centuries) will affect how I see and review a book.

book review on the secret garden

I read “Gone With the Wind” when I was about 12 and loved it. When I went back to the book as an adult I didn’t get very far because the racism, which I’d not noticed when I was young, was so blatant and so horrible it made the book unreadable. I agree with you that Heyer’s “The Grand Sophy” was spoiled by the anti-Semitism, which was especially heinous because it was written shorty after WWII and the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis were known when the book was written. However, I think I agree with Chrisreader on “The Secret Garden”. Mary’s ideas and attitudes are those of a child who doesn’t know an better, and while in India they are influenced by those of her parents. If in India Mary was too hot and languid and weak, it was because that was how she was expected to be. I don’t think Hodgson Burnett is necessarily saying it’s India’s fault, I think she’s saying Mary was never challenged to be otherwise whereas in England she was. Although, as an aside, today was hot and steamy in Washington, DC where I live, and I felt pretty hot and languid and weak myself.

@ Susan/DC : Hmm, and what do you think about the othering? In addition to Martha’s desire to gawk at a dark-skinned girl, there are Mary’s thoughts about a young marharaja and about snake charmers.

I disagree about Burnett’s intention. There was a drumbeat of India bad /Yorkshire good thoughout the book and nothing the omniscient narrator said or did refuted that. It is possible in fiction to show that a character’s perception is wrong, or at least unreliable, but while this was done in regard to Mary’s perception of Yorkshire and of other people, it wasn’t done in regard to her perception of India and Indians.

We can agree on The Grand Sophy and disagree on this one. This thread has been thought-provoking and fun. We all have books the suck fairy has visited. I wasn’t able to finish Gone with the Wind even as a teen, but I think the racism flew over my head then.

@ Susan/DC :

I just remembered. What about Mary’s skin being so yellow and her hair being like straw? That was ascribed to her life in India too.

I remember being so confused by the “yellow” skin thing as a kid. I didn’t know anything about racism or colorism and thought she was literally Crayola yellow and couldn’t figure out how that had happened. Nope, she just has a tan.

@Janine: Mary’s skin color and certainly her hair texture may have been because she was sickly and malnourished and indoors all the time; I seem to remember other books with sickly characters whose skin is so described which had nothing to do with any foreign countries (although I can’t remember specific examples right now). Martha’s wish to see someone with a different color skin may have just been curiosity relating to her first view of this stranger and not othering; I can actually understand wanting to see someone with characteristics I’d heard of but never seen. But I now am expressing possible wishful thinking, as it’s been too long since I read the book and don’t remember those details. Perhaps I will reread and hope that the suck fairy doesn’t visit me as it did you. Have you also reread her “The Little Princess”? I seem to recall there’s a positively portrayed Indian character in that one. IIRC, he is a servant, and I have a feeling he’s probably portrayed as “exotic”, but I don’t remember.

@ Susan/DC : Your interpretation isn’t invalid and I could see reading the book that way. I think for me it was a cumulative effect–any one of these things alone might not have given me the impression I had.

I did read A Little Princess but not in many years. It’s another that I remember loving–even into my teenage years, when I shared my love of these two books (and Anne of Green Gables , also) with my younger sister around the time that she was ten or eleven.

@ Kelly L. & @ Susan/DC : It just occurred to me that Mary’s skin color (if not her hair texture) could also be attributable to jaundice.

book review on the secret garden

Even with the racism, I think this is a useful book for children to talk about , at their level, the issues raised in the review and all these comments. I read it as a tween, and had a “whoa that seems racist” reaction to some aspects. I ultimately thought it was nice that the children in the book all worked out how to get along in the end despite all their different upbringings and ways of thinking. Kids are capable of understanding where some lines are.

Chrisreader raises lots of very interesting points that a kid could think about. I think these books provide kids some insight into the history of colonialism, how people in power thought (and still think, sadly) , and some of the origins around systemic and institutional racism that we are seeing today.

Do we want to wrap kids in cotton wool ? By sidelining books that make us – and kids – uncomfortable limits their opportunities to think critically about certain issues we find toxic, with the risk that kids end up not knowing why they should feel uncomfortable about certain issues.

@ Katie : I agree that there are some interesting insights to glean from the book, although I think reading it could be hurtful to an Indian child in a way it would not to a child from a different background. Regardless, I don’t advocate sidelining it. God know there are many works of literature that could be sidelined on the basis that they contain bigotry—just imagine if we sidelined Shakespeare, or the Bible. My goal was just to relate the reading experience and impressions that resulted from revisiting one of the books I loved in childhood.

I’ve never been quite sure why criticizing an old book is sometimes interpreted as wanting to wipe it from existence! Continuing to talk about problematic classics (including by reviewing them) is exactly what we *should* be doing with them.

It’s like a meme I saw once about free speech: criticism of your speech is not censorship, it’s *more speech*.

@ Kelly L. : Thanks, I think so too.

book review on the secret garden

Laura Ingalls Wilder depicted life as it was for a girl like her. What could we replace her with? A completely anachronistic story where white girls knew Native Americans, respected them, and recognized that her house was on their land? They all sang Kumbaya together?

Most of the Native Americans I remember depicted in the books were scary because they were strangers from an unknown culture who didn’t speak English, outnumbered the settlers and were, therefore unpredictable. Anyone in Laura’s situation would be scared of them.

Do we outlaw history because we don’t like it?

@ SAO : I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was proposing the outlawing of history. I’m not suggesting that the book should be censored or that parts of it should be redacted. My review mentions the racism because it affected my experience of reading the book and my reading experience is the basis for all my reviews. Hopefully the information included in the review will allow readers to decide for themselves whether or not the book is something that they would like to read.

book review on the secret garden

@ Janine : I am Indian, and it was definitely confusing as a child; as an adult, I can see the context. But in childhood, this book was often recommended to me, and the non-Indian adults and teachers around me couldn’t see the problem.

The new film has many problems too. Just a few: Mrs Medlock refers to the savagery of India and is unchallenged. Mr Craven specifically refers to Mary’s lack of civility. And the setting is moved up to partition, with cholera barely mentioned. Partition is depicted as unfair and difficult on a boat full of British children, with a few token Indian adults in serving positions or following the children. The colonialist attitudes in the book are quite explicit, which is both disappointing and disturbing in a film released in 2020.

book review on the secret garden

I think it’s a matter of context. This is a book written in the imperialism era, people really thought Indians, native Americans ecc… were inferior people or not people at all back then. Society were so strict, with so many rules about status. They had a different view of life in general.

When reading a book written a long time ago, we should take in mind how life and moralism were at the time. Reading pride and prejudice and be appalled for sexism has not sense, women were their husbands’s propriety and that was ok at that time. The same book with modern femminism sentences (Elisabeth is a femminist in the book) would be anachronistich. Read thoose books to children and talk about their “modern” flaws to me is the way. Made this or that racist line arguments for healthy debates and learn the past and from the past is the best method in my opinion. For me, we need to contextualize. Sorry for my bad English, not my first (nor second) language

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book review on the secret garden

Book Review: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Burnett wrote many books, but the two that are best known to us are  The Secret Garden  and  A Little Princess . Both are girls’ stories, so perhaps you will forgive me for mostly favoring boys’ stories in this view, but after all, I’m a boy! Nevertheless, I enjoyed these stories. Both are magical books that begin with a little rich girl moving from India, where she was born, to England.

In  The Secret Garden , the little girl is ten-year-old Mary Lennox, a very spoiled, stiff, cold child with a selfish temper and a bad case of yellow jaundice. Her parents have ignored her all her life, and the native servants who have waited on her were hardly better off than slaves, and then an epidemic of cholera leaves her orphaned. Her uncle, a wealthy recluse named Archibald Craven, becomes her guardian.

Uncle Archie is not a cheerful man. He has a crooked back and is tortured by a grief as old as Mary, and he only sees the girl once before going off on a European tour of self-loathing and despair. Mary finds herself in a 100-room mansion with strict orders not to go nosing around, no one to wait on her as the Indian servants did, and nothing to do except run around outside (which turns out to be good for her health). Then she takes an interest in a walled garden that has been locked up since her Uncle’s beautiful wife died 10 years ago, and she develops a sudden interest in digging and planting things (which is even better for her health).

Next thing you know, she has made friends with a cockney boy who charms animals, and a horrendously spoiled bedridden cousin whose father can’t stand the sight of him and who is convinced that he is going to develop a hunchback and die young. And at that point the book suddenly becomes the story of how the secret garden transformed cousin Colin from a shrieking, whining weakling into a tall, happy athlete in the course of one summer.

This shift is one of the main flaws of the novel, and the fact that there is but little conflict or suspense toward the end is another; but from another point of view, everything kind of develops inevitably from one end to the other. The story’s outlook is a little preachy and has some very strange theology in it. God is equated with something impersonal like Magic, and the effect of good attitude and honest effort sounds almost miraculous. But it isn’t a tract or a book of doctrine after all, it’s a romance story and it’s quite effective.

The remarkable thing is that the heroine is such an unattractive character to begin with; though the real savior may be Dickon, the boy who talks to animals, and who is at least once referred to as an angel. It’s neat to see the progress Mary and Colin make. A male author would probably have thrown in a subplot about the housekeeper and the boy’s doctor conspiring to keep him ill so that he could die young and they could inherit the estate, and I think the film adaptations do a bit of that. It makes better cinema maybe. But the real heart of the story turns out to be how the sickness in a father-son relationship is cured by the application of a little “magic” and the contrariness of a headstrong girl.

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book review on the secret garden

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Book Review

Initial thoughts on the secret garden by frances hodgson burnett.

The natural order of life is for people to grow, evolve, and have the ability to adapt to change. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett  is really about the transformative power of finding “passion” which gives meaning to life. The author’s writing is very vivid, and the words jump off the pages and transport readers into the story where they become a participant versus a passive observer.

What is The Secret Garden By Frances Hodgson Burnett About?

The Secret Garden, secret garden summary, secret garden frances hodgson,frances hodgson, frances hodgson books, summary secret garden, secret garden,becoming a better person, image of beautiful flowers in a garden

First published in 1911, The Secret Garden is a story about 10-year old Mary Lennox, a self-absorbed, sour and sickly girl who becomes an orphan when a cholera epidemic kills her parents and the staff at their home in India. Mary is sent to Misselthwaite Manor in the United Kingdom to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven who is still grieving 10 years after his wife’s death. Shortly after Mary’s arrival, Archibald leaves on a journey to heal his aching and grieving heart.

At the Manor, chambermaid Martha is the only one who has time for Mary, and she regales the child with tales about living on the moor. Martha also talks about her brother Dickon Sowerby , a spirited lad with a kind disposition, who has a “green thumb” and the unique ability to charm animals. After hearing about Dickon, Mary is fascinated and wants to meet him.

One day while exploring the grounds at the Manor, Mary finds the key to the Secret Garden which she has heard about. Everyone is banned from entering the garden, but Mary who has always been accustomed to getting her own way, enters the garden. Her transformation begins immediately. Later, she meets Dickon and shares her secret with him. Together they sneak into the Garden each day and work hard at restoration by pruning and planting new flowers. Doing something that she cares about, Mary gets stronger and her sickness starts to disappear. Because her life now has meaning, she becomes a nicer person and her sourly nature starts to fade.

One night while in her bedroom, she hears weeping and decides to investigate. She discovers her 10 year cousin Colin Craven who is confined to his bedroom because he refuses to go outside. Colin is convinced that he has a disability and is going to die very soon.

“Mary stood near the door with her candle in her hand, holding her breath. Then she crept across the room, and as she drew nearer the light attracted the boy’s attention and he turned his head on his pillow and stared at her, his grey eyes opening so wide that they seemed immense. ‘Who are you?” he said at last in a half-frightened whisper. ‘Are you a ghost?’ ‘No, I am not,” Mary answered, her own whisper sounding half-frightened. ‘Are you One?’… ‘No,’ he replied after waiting a moment or so. ‘I am Colin.’ ‘Who is Colin?’ she faltered. ‘I am Colin Craven. Who are you?’ ‘I am Mary Lennox. Mr. Craven is my uncle.’ ‘He is my father,’ said the boy. ‘Your father!’ gasped Mary. ‘No one ever told me he had a boy! Why didn’t they?’”

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book

Like any other relationship, this one has its ups and downs, but the two cousins develop a bond. When Mary feels that she can trust Colin she tells him about the Garden. Together Mary, Colin and Dickon go to the Garden each day to work.

As the story unfolds, the transformative power of the Garden spreads to Mary and Colin, and, as the Garden comes to life, so do Mary and Colin. Both regain their strength and health and Colin no longer needs his wheelchair. Not only is their health restored through the transformation, but they learn the importance of appreciation and showing consideration for others. What seemed impossible now becomes possible.

Five Great Ideas from The Secret Garden By Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • “You learn things by saying them over and over and thinking about them until they stay in your mind forever…”
  • “The beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.”
  • Make life meaningful by doing work that you are passionate about. Live each day as if it were your last
  • Everyone wants to be liked, appreciated and wanted. People also want to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves
  • To receive compassion you have to be compassionate and to earn respect you have to respect others

Final Thoughts on The Secret Garden By Frances Hodgson Burnett

book review on the secret garden

If you are a fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett, below you will find some biographies and more books by her.

Frances Hodgson Burnett Biography

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden

Books by Frances Hodgson Burnett

About the author  avil beckford.

Hello there! I am Avil Beckford, the founder of The Invisible Mentor. I am also a published author, writer, expert interviewer host of The One Problem Podcast and MoreReads Success Blueprint, a movement to help participants learn in-demand skills for future jobs. Sign-up for MoreReads: Blueprint to Change the World today! In the meantime, Please support me by buying my e-books Visit My Shop , and thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn , Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest !

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The Children's Book Review

The Secret Garden | Book Review

Bianca Schulze

Book Review of  The Secret Garden The Children’s Book Review

The Secret Garden: Book Cover

The Secret Garden

Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Ages: 8+ | 352 Pages

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions | ISBN-13: 9781840227796

What to Expect: Classic Literature, Mystery, Adventure, Nature, Friendship, and Self-Discovery

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a timeless classic that weaves a tale of transformation and renewal, capturing the essence of growth both in nature and within the human spirit. Originally titled “Mistress Mary,” the book draws inspiration from a well-known English nursery rhyme, setting the tone for a story that mirrors the rhyme’s themes of change and enchantment.

The narrative follows Mary Lennox, a sour-faced and spoiled orphan, as she is sent to live with her reclusive uncle at the gloomy Misselthwaite Manor. The mansion, with its multitude of locked rooms, serves as a metaphor for the characters’ emotional barriers. Mary’s exploration of the surrounding gardens becomes a metaphorical journey of self-discovery, leading her to the mysterious and long-forgotten secret garden.

As Mary unearths the key to the secret garden, Burnett masterfully unfolds a captivating tale of friendship and the healing powers of nature. The garden becomes a symbol of rebirth, both for the land and the characters. The vivid descriptions of the garden’s transformation are a testament to Burnett’s skill in portraying the enchanting beauty of nature’s cyclical renewal.

The characters, including the sickly cousin Colin, undergo profound changes, mirroring the growth of the garden itself. The narrative skillfully explores themes of resilience, friendship, and the transformative power of love. Mary’s personal growth, from a spoiled child to a compassionate friend, is beautifully portrayed, emphasizing the idea that, like the garden, individuals have the potential for renewal and positive change.

To fully appreciate the magic within “The Secret Garden,” it is recommended to read the book during the transition from winter to spring. The symbolism of the changing seasons aligns with the story’s themes of growth and renewal, making the reading experience all the more enchanting. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic continues to resonate with readers of all ages, reminding us that, much like Mistress Mary’s garden, there is always room for growth and beauty in our own lives.

Buy the Book

What to read next if you love the secret garden.

  • A Little Princess , by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Ballet Shoes , by Noel Streatfeild
  • Heidi , by Johanna Spyri
  • Anne of Green Gables , by L. M. Montgomery

Bianca Schulze reviewed  The Secret Garden . Discover more books like  The Secret Garden by reading our reviews and articles tagged with Classics .

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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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book review on the secret garden

Book Review

The secret garden.

  • Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Coming-of-Age , Historical

book review on the secret garden

Readability Age Range

  • Frederick A. Stokes (Heinemann)
  • NEA Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children, 2007; SLJ Top 100 Children’s Novels for the 21st Century, 2012

Year Published

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine .

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox is a sour, spoiled child raised mainly by servants. Her father holds a position with the English Government in India, and her beautiful mother loves people and parties. When a cholera outbreak kills everyone in her house, Mary is sent to temporarily live with an English clergyman and his family. Then she sails to England to live with an uncle she’s never met named Archibald Craven.

Mr. Craven’s home, as old as it is enormous, is called Misselthwaite Manor. It sits on the edge of a moor. Mr. Craven’s housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, tells Mary most of the gloomy manor has been locked up since Mr. Craven’s wife died 10 years earlier. She warns the girl not to go poking around. The next day, Mary meets a friendly housemaid named Martha. Martha doesn’t coddle her as Mary’s maids did in India, which makes her confused and angry.

Mary hates the bleak moor out her window. She becomes intrigued, however, when Martha mentions a garden once belonging to Mrs. Craven. It has been locked since her death, and Mr. Craven has buried the key. When Mary goes outside to explore, she searches for the mysterious walled garden. She meets an old gardener named Ben Weatherstaff and an attentive robin she soon considers a friend. When Mary asks about Mrs. Craven’s garden, Ben tells her there is no door to the garden and hasn’t been for 10 years. He echoes Mrs. Medlock’s warning not to poke around.

Mary asks Martha more questions about the garden. The maid reveals Mrs. Craven died there after a tree branch she was sitting on fell. Mary also inquires about a noise she’s been hearing in the halls. It sounds like the crying of a child. Martha insists it’s just the wind.

Mary begins to eat more and gains some color in her cheeks. She enjoys hearing Martha talk about her large, poor family. Mary is particularly interested in Martha’s 12-year-old brother, Dickon. He seems to have a special gift for tending plants and animals. Mary explores the house, passing old artwork and dusty rooms. Again, she hears the crying sound. Mrs. Medlock finds Mary in a forbidden part of the mansion and ushers her out, warning that she may get herself locked up if she doesn’t stop poking her nose where it doesn’t belong.

Martha’s mother, Susan, buys Mary a jump rope. While Mary is out jumping one day, the robin guides her to a buried key and the door to Mrs. Craven’s walled garden. Mary walks in and wonders if anything there is still alive. Without mentioning the garden, she later asks Martha to send Dickon to buy her gardening tools and flower seeds. Dickon brings the things to Mary himself. She likes him right away and shows him the secret garden. He says many flowers are still alive, and the two spend long days pruning and planting.

Mr. Craven calls Mary to his study for the first time. She realizes he is not ugly or horrible, as she’d expected, just very sad. She asks him for some earth on which to grow flowers, and he tells her she may take any unwanted piece of land she finds. He leaves on a long trip.

In the night, Mary continues to hear crying. She finally stumbles upon a bedroom where a boy her age lies. Once they each determine the other is not a ghost, they discover they are cousins. Colin is Mr. Craven’s son. He cries and throws horrible fits because he’s been led to believe he’s dying or becoming a hunchback. Mary tells him wonderful things about the moor and India, and her company delights Colin.

The servants are grieved to know Mary has discovered the boy. They quickly change their minds, however, when they see how Mary can scold and sway him in a way no one else can. People have always given him whatever he has wanted. Since Mary herself used to be spoiled and sullen, she fearlessly tells him to stop whining and start living.

Mary arranges for Dickon to come to Colin’s room and bring the various animals he’s charmed. Mary and Dickon convince Colin to come with them to the secret garden. Colin hasn’t been out of the house in years, but he loves the idea. He demands all of the servants stay away from the gardens so no one will see where they go. The three spend many days in the beautiful, blooming walled garden. Mary’s and Colin’s appetites continue to increase, and they grow stronger.

Ben, the gardener, is angry at first to discover them there. In time, he becomes their helper and ally, especially after he sees how Colin is improving. Not only does Colin grow healthier, but he secretly learns to stand and then walk. He keeps these new abilities a secret from all but his friends in the garden, as he wants to surprise his father when Mr. Craven returns from his trip. Mary and Colin are convinced there is Magic surrounding them and within them that is causing all of the change and beauty in nature and in their hearts. Dickon has told his mother about the garden, so Susan comes to visit as well. Colin exercises daily and proclaims he will live forever.

Far away, Mr. Craven feels a sudden sense of hope that has long eluded him. When he receives a letter from Susan urging him to come home, he prepares at once. Upon his return, he feels he is being led to the secret garden. He arrives to find his son healthy and walking. They walk back to the manor together, in full view of the awe-struck servants.

Christian Beliefs

Ben says Mrs. Craven is in heaven. Ben and the children sing the Doxology in a moment of joy and celebration. Mrs. Medlock refers to the sneaky Mary and Colin as a pair of young Satans.

Other Belief Systems

Mary and Colin believe in and speak a great deal about Magic. The word is capitalized throughout the book. Mary hears many stories about Magic from her servants in India. The kids believe it is the life force in nature, what makes the garden grow. Dickon is able to charm animals.

Colin decides to grow up to be a scientist who studies the essence of this Magic. He sits everyone in a circle and has them chant to call forth the Magic so he can walk. Mary clarifies she’s certain this is good, or white, Magic. After they all sing the Doxology, Colin says the lyrics are expressing the same thing he means when he says he’s thankful to the Magic. When he asks Dickon’s mother if she believes in Magic, she says yes. She says she never heard it called that before, but she supposes there are different names for it everywhere. She also suggests it doesn’t matter what you call it since it made Colin well. She refers to it as the Big Good Thing and the Joy Maker. (Notes in the book explain author Frances Hodgson Burnett was a Christian Scientist, which informed her worldview and the worldview of her characters.)

Authority Roles

While not an unkind soul, the grief-stricken Mr. Craven distances himself from everyone. Stern Mrs. Medlock warms to Mary once she sees the girl’s impact on Colin. Martha speaks kindly and honestly to Mary, sharing stories of her family. Mrs. Medlock, Martha and the other servants are required to pander to the every command of the spoiled, 10-year-old Colin. Susan Sowerby is a well-respected mother of 10 who offers wise advice. Ben seems surly at first but becomes a friend and helper when he sees what the garden has done for the children’s health.

Profanity & Violence

The phrase Good Lord appears a few times. Ben calls the people spreading rumors about Colin’s condition jacka–es .

Sexual Content

Discussion topics.

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at .

Additional Comments

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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‘The Secret Garden’ Review: It’s as Lovely as You Remember

This version, featuring Colin Firth as the haunted uncle, hits the same notes as the 1911 novel and previous films, and that’s fine for this uncertain moment.

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book review on the secret garden

By Lovia Gyarkye

In a year defined by surprise, the predictability of “The Secret Garden” — a new film adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 novel — proves more charming than tedious.

Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), a headstrong and emotionally neglected 10-year-old, moves to her uncle’s estate in Yorkshire, England, after her parents die from cholera in India. Her uncle Archibald Craven, played by Colin Firth, is a hypochondriac too haunted by the death of his wife to pay real attention to Mary. She struggles to adjust and finds solace in exploring the grounds of her new home. On one of her adventures, she finds a hidden garden (which her uncle locked after her aunt died there) that leads her to uncover the history of her family.

Directed by Marc Munden (“National Treasure”) from a script by Jack Thorne (who adapted “His Dark Materials” for TV), the movie follows Mary’s perspective and blurs the line between childhood imagination and reality. The garden, where she spends most of her time, becomes a character too, reflecting Mary’s moods and nurturing her as she grows softer and more kind.

Friendship — between Mary, her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) and Dickon (Amir Wilson), the adventurous younger brother of an estate worker — anchors this story about grief and redemption. As the motley crew works together to unlock the magic of the garden, they display tender moments of vulnerability and joy that can teach even the most cynical among us a lesson or two.

The Secret Garden Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. Rent or buy on Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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A modern graphic retelling of the secret garden, from the classic graphic remix series.

by Ivy Noelle Weir ; illustrated by Amber Padilla ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 19, 2021

Empathy and self-discovery fuel this updated classic.

In this graphic novel reboot of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, Mary Lennox’s Uncle Craven lives in a present-day New York City town house; Mary’s parents worked in the Silicon Valley tech industry before their untimely deaths.

Mary soon meets her uncle’s prickly housekeeper and her gregarious babysitter, Martha, and she becomes fast friends with Martha’s younger brother, Dickon. Mary gets to know the city, exploring its iconic cultural institutions and food scene and befriending the local bodega owner and his cat. Mary learns from Martha that her uncle’s standoffishness stems from the devastating death of his husband, Masahiro, but she senses that her new home holds other secrets as well after hearing unexplained noises during the night. Martha also mentions the beautiful rooftop garden that Masahiro cultivated—and Mary is determined to find it. Accessing the garden and finding Colin, an ailing cousin who suffers from panic disorder, living upstairs, Mary teams up with Dickon to nurture both. Mary and Dickon are kind and supportive, and Colin’s therapist provides professional guidance. As the garden grows, so do the opportunities for friendship and healing in a story that modernizes this timeless storyline. The simple panel layout and clear, colorful illustrations with easy-to-read speech bubbles make the plot easy even for young readers less familiar with graphic novels to follow. Most characters are brown skinned; the housekeeper, Martha, and Dickon read as White.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-45970-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021


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From the one and only series , vol. 4.

by Katherine Applegate ; illustrated by Patricia Castelao ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 7, 2024

Not the most satisfying wrap-up, but it’s always good to spend time in the world of this series.

Beloved gorilla Ivan becomes a father to rambunctious twins in this finale to a quartet that began with 2012’s Newbery Award–winning The One and Only Ivan .

Life hasn’t always been easy for silverback gorilla Ivan, who’s spent most of his life being mistreated in captivity. Now he’s living in a wildlife sanctuary, but he still gets to see his two best friends. Young elephant Ruby lives in the grassy habitat next door, and former stray dog Bob has a home with one of the zookeepers. All three were rescued from the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan’s expanded world includes fellow gorilla Kinyani—the two are about to become parents, and Ivan is revisiting the traumas of his past in light of what he wants the twins to know. When the subject inevitably comes up, Applegate’s trust and respect for readers is evident. She doesn’t shy away from hard truths as Ivan wrestles with the fact that poachers killed his family. Readers will need the context provided by knowledge of the earlier books to feel the full emotional impact of this story. The rushed ending unfortunately falls flat, detracting from the central message that a complex life can still contain hope. Final art not seen.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780063221123

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024


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From the diary of a wimpy kid series , vol. 14.

by Jeff Kinney ; illustrated by Jeff Kinney ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 5, 2019

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019


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by Jeff Kinney ; illustrated by Jeff Kinney


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book review on the secret garden

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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, the secret garden.

book review on the secret garden

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Even though 27 long years have passed since its last screen adaptation, there has been no shortage of movies, plays, or TV series that honored Frances Hodgson Burnett ’s classic English children’s novel “ The Secret Garden ,” published originally in 1911. In this context, the utmost compliment one could pay to the new version by director Marc Munden and screenwriter Jack Thorne (“ The Aeronauts ” and “His Dark Materials”), a slightly monotonous, but still wondrous reading of the source, is that it understands what makes Burnett’s work a worthwhile text to come back to generation after generation. Loyal to its roots like Agnieszka Holland ’s respectably fanciful 1993 iteration, but entirely fresh for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered the mysteries of the titular garden or the grand Misselthwaite Manor it’s connected to, this recent “The Secret Garden” both respects and admires children’s imagination as its young characters discover their own way to grapple with loss, isolation, and loneliness. 

If the timing of it all sounds a bit too eerily opportune, that’s because it actually is—stuck within the everyday of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis away from their friends, our kids in the real world have been living with doses of grim realities for months now, with no perceivable end in sight. So “The Secret Garden” might just fill a gaping hope in their lives these days, feeling like a warm, cozy supply of comfort, a two-hour sanctuary where they can process the aforesaid grown-up ideas in their own pace. There is however a flip side to that timeliness, at least for this heartbroken US-based critic. Thanks in large part to cinematographer Lol Crawley (of the sensational “ The Childhood of a Leader ”), Munden’s film looks so striking and cinematically majestic that one can’t help but mourn the temporary (though entirely necessary) loss of giant theater screens nowadays, where this film ultimately belongs and should have been experienced.

That is not to say that the glory of the film’s gothic mansion—intriguingly derelict, grandly wallpapered and furnished—and the beauty of the garden in question will be lost on the small screens as young ones and young-hearted adults tag along with Mary Lennox (a well-cast Dixie Egerickx of “ The Little Stranger ,” ably playing up Mary’s precocious snappiness). We meet her in India during a brief yet heartrending prologue. The year is 1947—among the major liberties this version takes is tweaking the original story’s Edwardian setting, bringing its timeframe closer to our era. Here, the cholera epidemic during India’s partition from Pakistan is looming large. Having lost both of her wealthy parents tragically, young Mary—a by-all-means spoiled little girl who doesn’t even know how to dress herself—gets sent to live with her reclusive uncle Archibald Craven (a welcome Colin Firth , though barely in the film) in the Yorkshire Moors, where the ghastly aftermath of the World War II is ever-present.

Mary complies, begrudgingly. Thankfully, her life in Misselthwaite Manor, which feels straight out of a Guillermo del Toro fantasy à la “Pan’s Labyrinth,” proves to be anything but mundane. For starters, there is the kindly maid Martha ( Isis Davis ), whom Mary befriends while fending off the strict housekeeper Mrs. Medlock ( Julie Walters ). Also in Mary’s growing clan is a sweet disheveled dog, her bedridden cousin Colin ( Edan Hayhurst ) hiding away in his room and a local boy named Dickon ( Amir Wilson ). And then there is of course the garden itself, which gets introduced in the story in due course with its robin redbreast, dense vines, and lush flora. A place with magical remedial powers and all kinds of colors and plants imaginable, this garden (reportedly a composite of some of the most beautiful gardens across the United Kingdom), looks different from what you might expect—instead of walls and a secluded feel, Munden’s version features an expansive look, rendering more like a vast, freeing open field than a contained and claustrophobic yard.

It is in the boundlessness of this world that Mary gets to know the members of her new squad one by one. The dynamics are complex—even the doggie infuses the tale with a significant twist—and Thorne balances out all the moving pieces carefully, with the aid of a simple yet sweet score by Dario Marianelli . Throughout the film’s compact running time that capably shuffles dark gothic interiors with bright outdoors, the trio grow individually and heal in a visceral sense with a little help from one another under the protective wing of the garden. Ultimately, “The Secret Garden,” as it always has, aims to open a gate for kids, a passage to a rejuvenating place that both validates and soothes adolescent fears too scary to handle unaccompanied. This essential version does exactly that when big minds trapped in little bodies might need it the most.

Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer and critic based in New York. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes to , Variety and Time Out New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, among other outlets.

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The Secret Garden movie poster

The Secret Garden (2020)

Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild peril.

Dixie Egerickx as Mary Lennox

Colin Firth as Lord Archibald Craven

Julie Walters as Mrs. Medlock

Amir Wilson as Dickon

Maeve Dermody as Alice

Edan Hayhurst as Colin Craven

Jemma Powell as Grace Craven

Sonia Goswami as Aayah

  • Marc Munden

Writer (novel)

  • Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Jack Thorne


  • Lol Crawley
  • Luke Dunkley
  • Dario Marianelli

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  1. The Secret Garden Review

    The Secret Garden Review 'The Secret Garden' is an innocent, simple but potent children's story about how a little girl's discovery of an abandoned garden leads to a profound change in her life and that of those around her. The author utilizes a simple story to advance her thesis about the near-magical power of positive thinking.

  2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    This book can be read by anyone over 9, advanced readers at around 7 or 8. The Secret Garden is about a particularly arrogant and unpleasant girl called Mary Lennox. At the start of the book, she ...

  3. The Secret Garden Book Review

    Our review: Parents say ( 14 ): Kids say ( 35 ): For generations, this wonderful novel has inspired young readers to appreciate simple earthly pleasures like skipping rope, planting seeds and watching plants grow, and coming home to a hot meal. At the same time, The Secret Garden appeals to children's imaginations with its mysteries of cries in ...

  4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden is a children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett first published as a book in 1911, after a version was published as an American magazine serial beginning in 1910. Set in England, it is one of Burnett's most popular novels and is considered a classic of English children's literature.

  5. Book Review: "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    I highly recommend it as a wonderful book especially for children. It is a wonderful book for parents to read to their child. It has a great message! Thanks for sharing. "The Secret Garden" is a children's classic that submerges us in a world of plants and sunshine. Here's why everyone, especially young people, should read it.

  6. REVIEW: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Janine C- Reviews / D Reviews animals / bigotry / children / children's book / classic / Edwardian-era / England / gardening / India / racism / secret 28 Comments. Dear Readers, As a child, I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. It's considered a classic novel and is the story of children beginning to blossom as they bring a locked, abandoned garden to life.

  7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

    An original 1911 review of The Secret Garden. From the original review of The Secret Garden in The Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA, October 29, 1911: Readers of all the many charming books that Frances Hodgson Burnett has written to delight the world and make it better will find The Secret Garden full of sweet and unexpected pleasures.

  8. Book Review: "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed these stories. Both are magical books that begin with a little rich girl moving from India, where she was born, to England. In The Secret Garden, the little girl is ten-year-old Mary Lennox, a very spoiled, stiff, cold child with a selfish temper and a bad case of yellow jaundice. Her parents have ignored her all her ...

  9. The Secret Garden (Illustrated Classics)

    Devra Newberger Speregen (Adapted By) 4.11. 36 ratings6 reviews. In this beloved children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, orphan Mary Lennox is sent to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor. Bored and lonely, Mary befriends Dickon, a local boy who talks with animals. Together they discover a secret garden that has been locked and ...

  10. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Book Review

    First published in 1911, The Secret Garden is a story about 10-year old Mary Lennox, a self-absorbed, sour and sickly girl who becomes an orphan when a cholera epidemic kills her parents and the staff at their home in India. Mary is sent to Misselthwaite Manor in the United Kingdom to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven who is still grieving 10 years after his wife's death.

  11. Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    The Secret Garden is the story of an orphan named Mary who is sent to live in her uncle's magnificent, mysterious mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. Mary discovers a love for the gardens outside the mansion—specifically, a secret walled garden with a missing key. When Mary finds a way into the secret garden and vows to bring it back to life ...

  12. The Secret Garden

    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a timeless classic that weaves a tale of transformation and renewal, capturing the essence of growth both in nature and within the human spirit. Originally titled "Mistress Mary," the book draws inspiration from a well-known English nursery rhyme, setting the tone for a story that mirrors the rhyme's themes of change and enchantment.


    Burnett's iconic novel gets a graphic reenvisioning. Marsden, graphic-novel adapter of Anne of Green Gables (2017), hopes to entice a new wave of young readers with her interpretation of the classic tale. Following Burnett's narrative, after the death of her parents, tempestuous young Mary is sent to live with mysterious Uncle Craven in his ...

  14. The Secret Garden

    The Secret Garden, novel for children written by American author Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in book form in 1911 (having previously been serialized in The American Magazine).The pastoral story of self-healing became a classic of children's literature and is considered to be among Burnett's best work.. Summary. The novel centres on Mary Lennox, who is living in India with her ...

  15. The Secret Garden

    Plot Summary. Ten-year-old Mary Lennox is a sour, spoiled child raised mainly by servants. Her father holds a position with the English Government in India, and her beautiful mother loves people and parties. When a cholera outbreak kills everyone in her house, Mary is sent to temporarily live with an English clergyman and his family.

  16. Book Review: The Secret Garden

    The Secret Garden is a novel of Mary Mary quite contrary, whose parents die due to cholera and is sent off to live with an uncle. The house is old, dusty and filled with secrets. At first we all learn to hate the little brat. Anywhose, a little bird tells Mary of a secret garden planted by her late aunt being "shut down" after her death.

  17. 'The Secret Garden' Review: It's as Lovely as You Remember

    In a year defined by surprise, the predictability of "The Secret Garden" — a new film adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved 1911 novel — proves more charming than tedious. Mary ...


    Empathy and self-discovery fuel this updated classic. In this graphic novel reboot of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic, Mary Lennox's Uncle Craven lives in a present-day New York City town house; Mary's parents worked in the Silicon Valley tech industry before their untimely deaths. Mary soon meets her uncle's prickly housekeeper and ...

  19. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Read 26.4k reviews from the world's largest community for readers. "One of the most delightful and enduring classics of children's literature, The Secret G… The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Goodreads

  20. The Secret Garden movie review (2020)

    Even though 27 long years have passed since its last screen adaptation, there has been no shortage of movies, plays, or TV series that honored Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic English children's novel "The Secret Garden," published originally in 1911.In this context, the utmost compliment one could pay to the new version by director Marc Munden and screenwriter Jack Thorne ("The ...