I’m convinced that this classic children’s story was written mostly for adults. I’ve enjoyed it more as an adult than as a child, and I remember my mother’s great enjoyment of the book when I was young. In fact, Frances Hodgson Burnett marketed this book to both adults and children when it was first published in 1911.
This book is a great read for gardeners and nature lovers of all ages. A major theme is that nature can undo physical and psychological traumas, but only if one chooses to participate in the natural world and care for others instead of dwelling on their own problems. Another theme considers that real wealth is more about happiness and health than about money. The author uses the symbolism of the seasons from winter to summer to show growth and emergence of both the characters and the garden.
As the book begins, Mistress Mary, a recent orphan, is traveling to her austere uncle’s castle to live. She is a lonely and self-indulgent child. In this new home, she is no longer the center of attention, so must come to terms with her unhappiness. When she somewhat reluctantly befriends the cheerful young chambermaid who tends to her, Mary starts on her path of redemption.
The castle and its occupants have many secrets besides the secret garden. It is quite delightful to join Mary on her journey of discovery in the castle, and see how the changes that she makes in herself inspire changes in others. The characters are well-presented and believable. Many a situation will make the reader chuckle. This is a great book to share with kids. It’s part cautionary tale for petulant children, part exploration of a fantasy world, and part celebration of nature.