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Reader’s Reflect: The Secret Garden

June 1, 2013

“Readers Reflect,” is a post by a guest blogger reflecting on a formative book, character, or reading experience that has been particularly meaningful in their life as a reader. To submit your own “Readers Reflect” essay, please contact us at 

Today we are joined by Michelle Cove, author I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms (Seal Press, 2013)

The space and freedom to explore with just enough boundaries to feel safe… I think that’s what intrigued me so much about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My mom read this book to me when I was eight, a chapter each night before I trailed off to sleep. I didn’t love the book at first. I found it hard to follow the strange story of little Mary Lennox in India whose parents died of Cholera (gulp!), and her long trip to Yorkshire England to live with her weirdo uncle. Those first chapters were also jam-packed with details and complicated language, and I struggled to the let the images wash over and not lose track.

It became a little more interesting when Mary journeyed to England and settled in at the Yorkshire mansion. I enjoyed hearing about how she began to explore the old gloomy and neglected rooms. But it was when Mary headed outside one day and discovered the entrance to the secret garden that I got hooked. I think back now to what enchanted me so much about the garden; I mean, there was no unicorn, magic plants, puppies or even danger there. It was just an overgrown, unkempt plot of land. What was the big deal?

Michele & Risa

Michelle & Risa

In retrospect, what made the garden so magnificent was that this small hidden garden belonged entirely to Mary. She could do whatever she wanted—talk to the birds, tend to the roses, dance around wildly, whatever she wished—without any adults telling her what to do or how she could do it better. It was close to her “home” and had walls around it, so it felt safe. But Mary was still out in the in the “wild” world of nature where her imagination could roam free. She could hide away from others; or just sit quietly without having to do much of anything. And as the once miserable Mary grew to increasingly care for the space, she tended to it and helped it blossom. It was a love story, really.

I didn’t know if my daughter Risa, age 8, would enjoy The Secret Garden as much as I did. Unlike me, she doesn’t tend to get lost in a book for hours like I could and still do. Would it feel dated? Hard to relate to? Would she worry about the fact that parents can just die of things like Cholera? I am pleased, make that thrilled, to report that Risa responded to my favorite childhood book in the same way I did—pleading with me to read “one more page!” each night. In a world where Disney princesses, Kinnect games, and Nickelodeon vie for children’s attention, it’s a relief that there is still joy and magic in escaping to a quiet, fictional place where a girl gets to follow her curiosity and answer to no one.

Michelle Cove is the author of I Love Mondays: And Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms (Seal Press, 2012), and Seeking Happily Ever After: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind, which is based on her award-winning documentary,Seeking Happily Ever After (Lionsgate, 2010). She is also the co-author of the national bestseller I’m Not Mad, I just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict, and the editor of 614: the HBI ezine, an online magazine that explores hot topics for Jewish women. She is currently in production on her documentary One and Only about only children, and writes about her life at The Cove and on The Huffington Post.                                                                                          

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