Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Secret Garden

 Reading your favorite childhood book is always a delicate proposition. I was so eager to introduce my favorite book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my kids, that I almost ruined the experience for them. A few years ago, we started reading the book as a bedtime read-aloud. I did not remember just how horrifying the first chapter is with a small girl abandoned in a household wiped out by a cholera plague. Halfway through the  chapter, my child looked up at me with scared eyes like, "Are you sure this is a good book, Mom?" We decided to put it away for a few years, and I am glad I did. This spring, we picked up the book again, and it was just the right time to read it. We were able to get through the tough chapters with some reassurance and embrace the beautiful healing redemption of the book. We all loved this version with exquisite illustrations by Inga Moore. There are full-color illustrations on almost every page and it really helped the younger kids stay engaged with a fairly long book. (My younger ones are not nearly as sensitive as their older siblings.)
The wonderful thing about rereading a classic book is that it always speaks to you in new ways. I have never read the book as a mother, and this time I found myself identifying so much with Martha and Dickon's mother, Mrs. Sowersby. "It's like she says: 'A woman as brings up twelve children learns something besides her ABC. Children's as good as 'rithmetic to set you finding out things."

The whole course of motherhood and homeschooling has been one long process of "setting me to find out things". Most often those things were not about my kids at all, but about my own identity and heart.

As we were winding down our homeschool year, Mrs. Sowersby advice for raising healthy children seemed sound as well. "Give her simple, healthy food. Let her run wild in the garden. Don't look after her too much. She needs liberty and fresh air and romping about."

So our lessons did involve a lot of fresh air and romping about from learning to skip rope to planting our own not-so-secret garden.
We had a lovely outdoors tea party with two recipes from Inside the Secret Garden: A Treasury of Crafts, Recipes, and Activities by Carolyn Strom Collins: currant buns and dough cakes. I mixed up our own Secret Garden tea blend of English Teatime and Bengal Spice.While we drank tea, the girls peppered me with questions like: who was your favorite character and what was your favorite scene? They were also full of questions about Frances Hodgson Burnett's life and houses, which we were also able to find answers for in Inside the Secret Garden. It was our first real literary discussion not driven by what they should know, but just by love for the characters and scenes that moved them. It gives me great hope for the future.
We tried our hand at some copywork from The Secret Garden. I printed out a few simple vintage graphics from The Graphics Fairy, and read them a list of quotes from goodreads. Then I wrote one out for them to copy. I was not expecting that it would become quite the art project it did.  Untitled 
 The girls even took one of the images of an old-fashioned key and decided to make it into jewelry. Their necklaces turned out beautifully.
I can't quite describe their disappointment when I told the kids that there was no sequel to The Secret Garden. They were not ready to leave Frances Hodgson Burnett's world yet, so we are following it up with A Little Princess.