Welcome to my stop on the Return the Secret Garden blog tour!
Scholastic published a pretty new edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden this month alongside a 1930s sequel, Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb.
It’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…
As I run the 2015 Classics Challenge and have thoroughly enjoyed delving into children’s classics, I thought it’d be lovely for Holly Webb to share with us why it’s important to read classics.
Why read a classic, when there are so many amazing new books published every year? Looking back, I read a lot of ‘classics’ when I was a child – my favourites were Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (unsurprisingly…) and A Little Princess, but I also worked my way through Arthur Ransome, E. Nesbit, especially The Treasure Seekers and The Would-Be-Goods, all of the Anne books, and as much Louisa M. Alcott as I could find. What Katy Did, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, all the Narnia books, plus any number of classic school stories and horse books – it goes on. I even had an ancient copy of The Wide, Wide World by Elizabeth Wetherall, published in 1850, and I loved it, but then I really was a sucker for anything old, and I skipped a lot of the moralising…
Trying to pin down what I love about all these books (which are only vaguely defined as classics, and were published over a long period, nearly a hundred years) is fascinating and frustrating. I keep coming up with more and more thoughts which don’t tie neatly into any argument. So…
The main thing, for me. All these books are led by strong child characters, often suffering great adversity (and your Victorian adversity could be pretty horrific). Mary Lennox comes to Misselthwaite after her entire household in India has died from cholera, and she’s been left alone in the family bungalow, eating the food from an abandoned dinner party. She’s then sent to a strange, ancient house full of servants, with a guardian who’s hardly ever there. It’s possibly the most dramatic way to leave a child to find for herself ever… I love her strange, cold, stubborn ways at the beginning of the book, and the way the garden changes her is so believable.
I’m fascinated by the details of everyday life from the time these books were written. It’s even better because these are things which the authors weren’t including to be interesting at all. It’s all just as it was. Some of this makes events tricky to understand, but that’s all the more intriguing. It gives you a real appreciation of modern medicine, too. I had pneumonia at about 10, and I remember thinking this was a very dramatic, storybook thing, and being very grateful that I wasn’t going to die!
Sense of place
Fabulous recreations of landscape – Dickon’s stories about the moor and its creatures in The Secret Garden are spellbinding, Frances Hodgson Burnett created the most amazing word pictures. And think of the descriptions of woods and walk in Anne of Green Gables (even if I do want to kick Anne for being a complete drip, some of the time…)
Continuity – sharing something special
Often, these books are bought for children by parents or grandparents, wanting to share their own love of the stories. While I was writing Return to the Secret Garden, so many people told me that The Secret Garden was one of their favourite books. It’s great to be able to talk about the books you love with the people you love!
Thank you for joining me on the blog, Holly! The Secret Garden and Return to the Secret Garden are out now. Go here to enter to win copies!