by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is a classic. And sometimes classic = heavy reading or boring, in my mind. But classics are more likely to be books that have stood the test of time by being great read-alouds. Back in the days before electricity you could go to bed right after supper in the winter, or huddle around the fire to mend clothes or equipment while one person used the precious candlelight to read aloud. The Secret Garden is a great read-aloud if you are willing to put effort into reading (listening to well-read audio books is a great help).
The setting of this book involves a rambling, old house out in the countryside with a variety of characters from an old crotchety gardener to a common-sense housemaid, from a boy who loves nature to a boy who loves himself, and from a motherly neighbour to an ill-mannered heroine. Add to that a fear of ill-health, a friendly robin, a secret door with a hidden key, and vivid descriptions of nature, and you have an informative, fanciful book that gives a good look at character in a mildly adventurous setting.
I don’t know enough about the author to comment on her worldview. There is talk of “magic” in this book…the magic which brings new life in the spring and which the invalid boy character hopes will help him regain strength. As a read-aloud, the term “magic” is a point for discussion, and as a read-alone, I think most children who read a lot and are brought up with a Christian worldview will simply skim over it.
My girls (aged 5 and 7) really enjoyed this story and how Mary, the heroine, grew from an ill-mannered heroine to a likable girl. Would boys? Well, I think there is enough novelty in the new country and home to interest boy listeners, too, even before the two main boy characters show up in the book.
Available from: most libraries, Amazon. If you can find a copy with some illustrations it will appeal to younger readers.
Read Aloud Level: Ages 6 and up
Read Alone Level: Can vary from age 8-12