Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November's books

#10, The Secret Garden by Francis Hodson Burnett (1911)

This book is another that was most important to me when I was young. It was given to me in a group of books by my first-grade teacher, Miss Collier. All I remember about her was that she was Danish, a very good teacher, and very attractive, in a grown-up way. At the end of my year in her class, my family moved from upstate NY to downstate Connecticut: as a going away gift, Miss Collier gave me six childhood books, including this one. They had been her books, in her family, and it still touches me that she gave them to me.

I read it in pieces, less impressed with Mary's terrible attitude than her adventures in the secret garden itself. I did like that she was crabby and ungrateful--unlike most purer than milk child heroines--and that she was outspoken. The story unfolds without moralizing, but leaves the reader with a definite sense of Mary's journey from sickly, spoiled, wilfull, crabby, abandoned child to healthy, thoughtful, involved, generous, happy child... now with a new family.

I should also say that I read this aloud to my new second grade peers, every afternoon for about two weeks. Maybe more. My second grade teacher, not so great as Miss Collier, set this up--probably for some desperately needed alone time during the day! Of course, I was a complete geek--being able to read this book aloud, clearly and more or less articulately in second grade? Raging geek! and it is also completely Hermoine Granger, which is what I was. To say I was unpopular is mild. But I disliked my new colleagues as well, heartily, and, like Mary herself, found pleasure in other places... like books.

I've never seen a movie of this, but I know they exist. Probably "cleansed" for kids' sakes, and Mary is all sweet and treacly.

I should add that about 20 years ago, I gave it in turn to the daughter of one of my professors in grad school. She was very young and her parents had a messy divorce. I liked her a lot, and thought it would be appropriate to pass on this tradition and this book.

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