Friday, December 23, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Return to the Secret Garden


If you've ever read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, you will recognize the setting immediately. But author Holy Webb also captures the feeling of the first book - the prickly orphan girl who has been brought to Misselthwaite, the grumpy boy who lives there and resents having to share his home, and the incredible secret garden behind the manor house. For those who are not familiar with the original story, this book does just as well as a stand alone, so don't worry.  

It is the eve of World War II and the children of London are being evacuated to the countryside to protect them from the German bombs that everyone is expecting to be dropped on the city. The twenty children at the Craven Home for Orphaned Children are all bundled up and sent off on a train to stay at Misselthwaite, the ancestral home of the Craven family. While dusting her room, one of the orphans, Emmie, finds some old diaries in a drawer and begins to read them. She learns of another little girl who was an orphan sent to Misselthwaite years ago, and how she discovered a forgotten garden and brought it back to life. Finding the garden becomes a mission for Emmie, as does finding out who is making the crying sounds she hears at night. Is there a ghost in the manor? What she learns about gardens and friendship helps Emmie to give up some of her prickliness and may even let her feel at home for the first time in her life.

This book is an excellent homage to the original story. It stays true to the setting and characters and takes them years forward in time to mingle with a new generation. The way the two stories are intertwined through the diaries and the overlap of the characters makes it feel like a homecoming to readers of the first book and will entice newcomers to reach for the original once they finish Emmie's adventure.

Readers of historical fiction, particularly if they are interested in the period around WWII, or about the Blitz in particular, will find this a good choice. Details like gas masks, rationing, and bomb shelters reflect the experience of wartime London. The way in which the boys from the orphanage find some binoculars to watch the planes fly overhead and learn to identify the different types of aircraft is another realistic note.

Highly recommended for middle grades (and up).

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