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The Secret Language

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  578 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
At first, Victoria North is miserable at the Coburn Home School. Her housemother is very strict, she's terribly homesick and the other girls don't seem to have any time for a shy new girl.Then Vicky meets Martha Sherman, and everything changes. Martha introduces Vicky to pie-beds, midnight feasts and all the other wonderful things about boarding school. She even teaches Vi ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published 1998 by Harper Trophy (first published 1960)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,151)
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I guess this was the first boarding school book I read, and perhaps should be blamed for a lifetime's obsession! It is certainly a leebossa book, and it is distressing that Ursula Nordstrom burnt the sequel before it could be published.
Lisa Vegan
I just reread this because it’s the July book for the A Thrilling Term at Goodreads: The Girls’ School-Story Group. I can’t believe that it’s been nearly 50 years since I first read this book, this very copy I just reread, a hardcover edition priced at $2.95. This was my very first “school story” book, and it’s unusual in that the children are much younger than in most of the other boarding school books that I’ve read.

When I was young, I didn’t like the way the girls were scolded; I thought the
Aug 06, 2007 Marianne rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Grade-school girls, mothers with young daughters, or anyone who wants to escape back to girlhood.
I first read an excerpt of this book in third grade, and I immediately needed to find out more about what happened to Victoria and Martha.

Over many years, I forgot the title of this book, but I never forgot bits of the plot, or the magical feelings it evoked. Many years later, the first volume of Harry Potter kind of reminded me again of this story, and I searched Amazon for it. I'm so happy it's again part of my collection; even though I have no children of my own, I love reading it for my own
Mar 28, 2009 Susann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was probably the first American boarding school book I ever read. It was not in my hometown library, but during summer vacations with my grandparents, I would borrow it from the Cathedral City, CA library. Vicky and Martha have some wonderful experiences (I still want to be a pistachio ice cream cone for Halloween, for instance), but Nordstrom's wistful tone lingers throughout the book. It's a sophisticated touch that helps to show why Nordstrom was such a talented editor of books that push ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 20, 2011 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-long-ago
This little book is the sun in the imaginary universe of my childhood. My best friend and I used the words in here as the basis of our secret language, that we would use on the playground to thwart our enemies who wanted to kill unicorns (which clearly, we were). I lived at the edge of an enchanted forest, where the language comes from, and we even had maps of it. And being the smart girls we were, somewhere, someone may still have our written dictionary for the secret language. Leeleebossa!
Mar 22, 2016 Ashley added it
I totally forgot about this book, until Goodreads was like "Hey you might like this" and I was like "Hey I did!" Anyway, I borrowed it from a friend when I was like ten or so and I remember really liking it!
May 30, 2011 Zoe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens
One of those books that changed the lives of many little girls who read it, Nordstroms story about two friends at boarding school is deftly written and the points of view of the girls are totally in character. A wonderful read for adults as well, this was Nordstrom's only novel. Her high standards (she was the children's book editor behind the most famous books of the later half of the 20th century: Charlottes Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Harriet the Spy - the list goes on) kept her from publ ...more
Dec 14, 2009 Kara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This as the first boarding school book I ever read and was instrumental in my compulsive obsession with the genre, from all the series books to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Frost in May as an adult. It's a simple slip of a book but the story of two girl's friendship in the face of new experiences is sweet and enduring.
Monica Edinger
Mar 05, 2008 Monica Edinger rated it it was amazing
Those stars are based on my love for this book as a child. Not so sure how any kid today would take to it. Afraid to give it to one and be crushed by them not liking it!
This was my moms favorite book as a little girl and one of the only one's that she kept. She used to read it to me and my sister when we were little. I loved it then but I was little enough not to get some parts of it. Then one day I happened to stumble upon it when I was older. I just sat down right where I was and starting reading. I was sucked in and I soon understood why it was, and still is, one of my mom's favorites. It's about family, leaving home, school, but most of all it's about frien ...more
Oct 09, 2014 Jamie rated it really liked it
I read this book over and over as a kid. I'm not sure exactly what appealed about it, but I loved it anyway. It's just about a couple of girls at a boarding school who become friends, and have regular kid "adventures" like planning a midnight feast, building a house in the woods, inventing a secret language, ec.

One thing that is still relevant to this day is that it's one of the few books where a character has synesthesia, though it's not really discussed as such in the book. I have gender-pers
Feb 15, 2013 Marty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was a favorite childhood book which is now out of print. I felt a strong connection to this book because one of the two main characters was named Martha, like me, but unlike most Marthas I have read about, this Martha was smart and feisty.

I recognize that the book is outdated and will probably never come back into print, but I will always have a warm connection to it. It is set at a boarding school. Victoria arrives and is so homesick that the other girls want nothing to do with her. Then s
Apr 07, 2013 Lynsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2013
I've read this book a million times and each time it's slightly different. It's definitely a child's book, no challenge for adults, but it's such a sweet story. My mom read this book as a child and passed along her 1968 paperback version to me when I was a child. It is a well-loved copy of the book, falling apart it the binding. I haven't read it since probably middle school or early high school, so I decided to read it again. As with many books, I picked up on different things this time. There' ...more
We have Ursula Nordstrum, editor par excellence, to thank for the children's book career of Maurice Sendack and other notables. I am grateful to Nordstrom for urging Louise Fitzgugh to turn a collection of journal entries and sketches into the "Harriet the Spy" we know and love.

"Secret Language" is Nordstom's first and only attempt at writing for children herself. Though it has moments of the authenticity she clearly appreciated and and encouraged in other author's work, the story overall seems
Jul 19, 2013 Akila rated it liked it
Best enjoyed ages 8-10... Does give me a impression of what boarding school is like. Also when I thought about it a bit, about people and changes and friends and acceptance and a lot of other everyday things that we may not always consider. The only thing I didn't like was how shallow most of the book seemed to be, important points were just brushed on and most of the story seemed to fake and set up like a movie with overactors which took away the impact it could have with such strong feelings.. ...more
A very sweet, small, old-fashioned boarding school book. What I like is that it's so real--there's no big adventure or evil villain or anything for the two main characters to save. Except themselves. Both Vicky and Martha grow up a little in this book, and neither they nor the reader realize it's happening until it's over. I'm not sure this is a book I'd go back to again (or would have gone back to again as a kid), but it's definitely something I'm glad to have read. And I always like when chara ...more
Jennifer Heise
Jul 14, 2014 Jennifer Heise rated it really liked it
I first read this as a child, and I have to say that there are elements that have stuck with me to this day-- the ice-cream cone halloween costumes, the hut building, the boarding school of tiny dolls the girls make in a dresser drawer, and the making of a tiny landscape with a purse mirror as a pond in it.

I'm not sure what, if any, lesson there is here, except a tiny one about developing friendships; but one doesn't have to be a boarding-school child to enjoy this.
The Secret Language is about two girls and one is named Martha and one is named Victoria and they live at boarding school and first Victoria is roomates with Anne and Anne is mean sometimes. Then she goes home and then Martha gets to be roommates with Victoria and they get bunkbeds. One day Martha told Victoria her secret language, and they built a hut, and they are good friends. I love this book.
Wendy Tuell
Jun 07, 2012 Wendy Tuell rated it really liked it

I loved this book when I read it in elementary school. Part of the book's interest to me was reading about girls who were actually sent away from their families to go to school. That seemed like such a terrible thing, but I was very curious to read about how they coped and their adventures. Also, the idea of a secret language thrilled me!
Apr 24, 2010 Jeanette rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-grade, 2010
How did I miss reading this when I was a kid? I loved it and can only imagine what my reaction to it would have been in my younger days. I had an unfulfilled dream of going to boarding school when I was a kid. Can't believe I never read this. Better late than never I suppose.
Aug 19, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing
I read this in the 3rd grade and I adored it. I must have read it 100 times. I just ordered an old copy from ebay and I'm looking forward to reading it again. I so wanted to go to boarding school after this book, but I knew I'd be more of a homesick Vicki than a Martha.
Rebecca McNutt
This wonderful children's novel about friendship, growing up and imagination is vibrantly-written and filled with vivid imagery and unforgettable characters. The boarding school setting provides an interesting backdrop for the story and it's definitely a creative book.
Apr 30, 2014 Julia rated it it was amazing
I read this book soon after learning to read as a child (I was a late starter) and it fired my love of books and the wonderful worlds that can unfold with each page.
Hayley DeRoche
Very, very leebossa.
Jun 10, 2014 Daisy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A childhood favorite
Gail Morris
Oct 26, 2015 Gail Morris rated it it was amazing
this was one of my first Scolastic books I had ever purchased for myself and I read it over and over again, over the last 45 years. It is a great book about dealing with changes in life and homesickness.
Jan 24, 2016 Rebekah rated it liked it
Read it because it was one of my mom's old books. Don't remember much about it but I do think I liked it, at least when I was younger, but this isn't the cover I have, mine's the original.
Anne White
A firm favourite of my girls when they were between about eight to ten. (Even homeschoolers sometimes think boarding school would be more fun.)
Jessica Grant
Mar 31, 2015 Jessica Grant rated it it was ok
Not as good as I remember it from when I was a kid. But tastes change over three decades. :D
Oct 23, 2015 Jo-Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rereading old novels from my youth...
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Secret/Made up Languages in novels 1 1 Jan 19, 2016 04:01AM  
What's The Name o...: SOLVED YA Girls at boarding school invent language [s] 6 35 Apr 13, 2014 06:13AM  
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Ursula Nordstrom is primarily known as one of the twentieth century's great editors --- as many have remarked, "The Maxwell Perkins of children's literature." Yet besides being an editor, she was also the author of two remarkable novels, one published, The Secret Language (1972), and the second --- now lost forever --- unpublished.

She was publisher and editor in chief of juvenile books at Harper
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