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Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Abridged by Jesse Kornbluth & Paige Peterson

Illustrated by Paige Peterson

A new addition to the collection of updated classic books for children 

by Jesse Kornbluth & Paige Peterson



When we told friends that we were following our illustrated abridgements of “A Christmas Carol” and “Black Beauty” with “The Secret Garden,” we were stunned by the reaction. This turns out to be the favorite book of not just one generation, but of many. Every reader remembered the characters as if they were old friends: Mary, the frightened orphan sent from India to an ancient mansion in the English moors; Dickon, who can talk to the birds and make plants grow anywhere; and Colin, the physically challenged boy who’s spent his childhood in his bed. And everyone remembered cheering and weeping when Colin got out of his wheelchair and stood tall in the locked garden where his mother died and his endlessly sad father returns from yet another flight from his decade-long mourning and literally bumps into his son --- yes, “The Secret Garden” delivers an enormous emotional release.


“The Secret Garden” was a radical departure from English novels in 1911, the year it was published.  It isn’t now. The most important newsbreak isn’t Colin’s ascent from his sickbed, it’s Mary taking charge of the abandoned garden and bringing it --- and Colin --- back to life. The father, whose wife died when a branch fell on her in her garden, should have been the strong, dominant leader in 1911. When the novel was published, it was a break with traditional storytelling that Colin’s ascent from his sickbed is engineered by an equally sad but very determined 10-year-old girl.  And when Mary astutely enlists Dickon, who lives in harmony with nature, to bring the garden and Colin back to life, he’s perfectly content to report to her, which is very 21st century.


We don’t notice the difference between Then and Now because the story is so straightforward, the characters are motivated by such simple desires, and a very happy ending arrives exactly on schedule --- “The Secret Garden” reads like a reader-friendly contemporary novel. Published as a story for adults, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel was immediately popular and sold briskly, but was not considered a classic of English children’s literature. The elements were too thorny for that time --- the girl is the leader, the rich male landowner is depressed and often absent, and both Mary and Colin are wounded children who don’t make readers want to hug them. 

Books that adults give to children are one path to their survival. In the last century, four film adaptations helped. But the novel is 80,000 words --- a hearty meal. Is this adaptation the right idea for an age that wants, in children’s fiction, a vivid action plot and no loose ends? We hope so. “The Secret Garden” is a classic that deserves to remain a classic. At 35,000 words, we like to think we are doing our part. — Jesse Kornbluth and Paige Peterson

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