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The Secret Language

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  886 ratings  ·  96 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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Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  886 ratings  ·  96 reviews


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Hilary
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: 8 to 10 year old girls.
Victoria goes to a boarding school for the first time and meets Martha who likes to do things her own way and doesn't follow the crowd. There is a house mother who runs things like a boot camp but luckily for the girls she is called away and a motherly house mother arrives. The girls have adventures, try to have midnight feasts, build a hut and use their made up language. Anyone who has read this book will know what I mean when I say that this book is not ick en spek at all and for an 8 to 10 ye ...more
CLM
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
...more
Jamie Dacyczyn
Oct 09, 2014 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
...more
Marianne
Aug 06, 2007 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
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 20, 2011 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!
Ashley Perham
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!
Susann
Mar 28, 2009 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
Abigail
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Middle-Grade Readers Who Enjoy Boarding School Stories
One of the most influential children's book editors of the twentieth century, Ursula Nordstrom oversaw the publication of such classics as Charlotte's Web and Where the Wild Things Are , but this middle-grade novel, about a young girl and her experiences away at boarding school, is the only work of her own to be published (apparently there was a sequel, but Nordstrom burnt it).

The story of Victoria North, sent to the Coburn Home School when her mother's (rather vague) work situation inte
...more
Jeanette
Apr 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens
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.
Monica Edinger
Mar 05, 2008 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!
Joan
After reading "Dear Genius", I was curious to try Nordstrom's books. Her talent was editing, not writing, judging by this one book. It is a pleasant, rather boring, and somewhat dated story about two little girls at a boarding school, and their growing friendship and adventures during that school year. The main character, Victoria, becomes friends with Martha. Martha is actually a fairly disagreeable girl which Victoria doesn't realize since she is so grateful that someone would be friendly to h ...more
Zoe
May 30, 2011 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
Kara
Dec 12, 2009 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.
Kami
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
Marty
Feb 14, 2009 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
...more
Lynsey
Sep 14, 2010 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
Akila
Jul 19, 2013 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
Martha
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
Shivers
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.
Jennifer Heise
Jun 04, 2014 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.
Wendy Tuell
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing


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!
Michele
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, boarding-school
When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to go to boarding school -- I thought it sounded like so much fun, so British and grown-up and adventurous. Instead I had to settle for reading books about it. This might have been the first one, and it's still good all these years later.
Mary
Aug 19, 2009 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.
Julia
Apr 30, 2014 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.
Kbreach
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kid-lit
Probably my all time favorite book from 1972-1976, grades 2-6, but especially circa 4th grade. I still recommend it to girls around that age when I sub in the elementary school library. I loved re-reading this book over and over, and feeling like I could be one of the main characters' friends at their private school. The Giant ice cream cone costumes... and their language.... and their friendship!! Love it.
Roberta
One of my favorites from my childhood. I don't remember exactly when I read it, but I was about the same age as the girls in the book, so I'm guessing around 1966. Upon rereading it, I found the story vaguely familiar, although I didn't remember many details. The author really captures Victoria's sense of homesickness at the beginning of the book. I can see why I liked it, even though I had nothing in common with these boarding school girls. The title kind of baffles me because there is actually ...more
Nancy H Vest
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I hadn't read this book in years, but reading it again as part of a reading challenge was like visiting with an old friend. The main characters, Vicki and Martha, couldn't be more different but become the best of friends during Vicki's first year at a boarding school where Martha has been attending for a few years.
Now that I've raised children, I view Martha differently than before. She would probably be labeled ADD nowadays and put on meds, but when this book was written those meds didn't exist
...more
Alison
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
...more
Linda
Jun 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
I read this because I so loved it as a child. I wanted to remember what it was that made me love it.
As so often happens, I found it pretty boring and lacking in depth. The actual "language" consists of three words that anyone could get the meaning of from context. So if that was the thing I liked about it, I didn't ask for much.
The other reason I re-read it was because it was written by the famed Ursula Nordstrom. You'd think she would have written something better than this...
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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
...more

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