Intro to The Secret Garden {Book Club and interesting facts!}

OK ladies, I’m super excited to read the The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (it’s FREE and had a free audio version) with a group and discuss it! Here is the basic plan for the next month:

1. Today intro and background to the book, have read half by June 10th  and finished it by June 24th

2. Themes to be considered:

  • June 3rd: Impact of being a TCK and childhood illness. This is the first time I’ve read this book with the lens of Mary as a TCK and how being ill during childhood influenced Colin
  • June 10th: Loneliness (so many lonely people in this book!) HALF DONE WITH BOOK
  •  June 17th: Gardening (How could we not?)
  • June 24th: Personal change of characters BOOK FINISHED

The Secret Garden is a book I’ve read multiple times as a kid, but haven’t reread in years. In fact I’m reading a copy of the book my mom gave me as a Christmas present in 1987. That being said, I knew nothing about the author, Frances Hodgson Burnett or the background to this book.

According to research I’ve done on the internet I’ve learned the following. (I don’t want to give the false impression I’m the kind of person who knows these things off the top of my head, I’m not :). I wasn’t an English major, my minor was in mathematics.)

Frances was born in England in 1849 but after the US Civil war her mother decided to relocate the family to Tennessee. (That begs so many questions, doesn’t it?! Why Tennessee? Why would you move your family to war torn area? I digress.) So, Frances wrote The Secret Garden from the US, but “over the years, England remained an active and important part of her life. She crossed the Atlantic no fewer than thirty-three times over her lifetime, often living abroad for a year or two at a time.”

Thirty three times! By boat. And I thought the amount of time I’ve spent on a plane was “considerable.” Ha!

The Secret Garden was originally serialized in 1910 and later was put together in a book (fun to look for where an end to an installment would have been). During her lifetime it wasn’t one of her more well-known works and “Burnett would be astonished today to learn that she is known primarily as a writer for children, when the majority of her fifty-three novels and thirteen produced plays were for adults.”

Two major life events have worked their ways into the plot and themes of The Secret Garden. The first was the death of her 16-year-old son in 1890. Frances was away from him when he began to get ill and she hurried home to be with him and found out the diagnosis was tuberculosis. She took him on a “desperate circuit of Europe” and he died in her arms in Paris. The second was the loss of a house in southern England she had leased for ten years. The owner decided to sell it and so she lost her England home and English gardens.

So, that’s a bit of background on The Secret GardenKnowing a bit more of the history gets me excited! I look forward to next week talking about TCK’s and how childhood illness can impact the child and family.

Questions for discussion:

  1. The article referenced above said Frances “would be astonished today to learn that she is known primarily as a writer for children, when the majority of her fifty-three novels and thirteen produced plays were for adults.” When we move overseas, sometimes parts of our responsibilities or an aspect of our reputation or what we are known for changes. What is something you were known for back home that might surprise your teammates? Or something you’re known for now that might surprise folks back home.
  2. Are you the kind of person who likes to know more of the back story? Or not so much J. Both welcome! Just curious.


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Photo Credit: Adapted and remixed from todderick42 via Compfight cc


  1. Rachel May 26, 2014

    Ah, I’m so excited! I love this story. And I didn’t know the backstory before, how interesting! Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to see what we learn from this beautiful book.

    1. Amy Young May 26, 2014

      Rachel, so glad you’re in the this book! And as I reread it, it brought back lots of memories — and yes, knowing the back story helped me see things I’ve missed. Isn’t that one of the fun parts of reading? Seeing things that were there all along, but we just walked right past?

  2. Michelle Holthaus May 26, 2014

    I sometimes look at the back story before reading, but often do not. I was fascinated by the back story of the Secret Garden. Excited to reread it.

    1. Amy Young May 26, 2014

      Me too Michelle! When I DO look at the back story, it helps me a ton! Why don’t I do it more often???? 🙂

  3. Kayla May 26, 2014

    I’ve actually never read “The Secret Garden.” My lit professors from college would be so ashamed of me if they knew! 🙂 I’m very excited to dive into it for the first time, while seeing it through a TCK lens. I love knowing the backstory about authors and where they come from. I firmly believe our worldview (and experiences) colors how we see the world, which in turn, for authors, impacts their writing. So excited to being a part of my first book-club with VelvetAshes!

    1. Amy Young May 26, 2014

      (Shhhhh … your secret is safe with us, we won’t tell your lit professor! :))

      And WELCOME to your first book club book! We’re glad you’re here!

  4. Rhonda May 26, 2014

    I love learning the history and background to a book/story! This one is one of my favourites. One of my students chose ” The Secret Garden”  for her essay . The essay assignment was to compare your novel/book to today’s world. For her first formal essay it was pretty good.

    1. Amy Young May 26, 2014

      How cool is that?! What were some of the points she made? Feel free to chime in throughout the month and let us know what she said 🙂

  5. Rhonda May 26, 2014

    I will try to. She compared the children in the book with children of Mongolia today. The aspects of those who come from rich backgrounds and poor backgrounds. There was comparison in health, being spoiled, attitudes and what the future would be like for those born of wealth. It was interesting that she also wrote about the mental attitude helps to achieve your goals.

  6. Brittany May 27, 2014

    What great back story!  Confession: I’ve never read The Secret Garden.  I’m familiar with the story, though, from a Focus on the Family Radio Theater production of it.  I have never been a read-for-pleasure kind of person.  And in school/college, I always read the bare minimum, skimmed, and spark notes!  Wow, did I just really confess all of that?!  But I’ve been getting into reading for the past 3 years and have broadened my horizons, haha.  So I’m really excited to read this book.  I’ve never been one to research back story on books either (surprised?).

    (I don’t have a good answer for your first question…)

    1. Amy Young May 27, 2014

      🙂 … I’ve never been one to research back stories either (I’m more along the lines of “information gets in my way” kind of gal). BUT when I saw that some people were not all that keen on The Secret Garden, I thought, “hey, maybe if they knew more about it, they might like it :).” And even if someone reading this still doesn’t want to join this one, that’s cool :). This is part of what I love about being part of a book club, I’m exposed to books I might not read on my own AND I’m enriched by others who see and get things I miss. (and even if you read the Cliff notes on this … still chime in :). I love hearing from you!)

  7. Kimberly Todd May 27, 2014

    I’m reading this one aloud. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book, but I do know it was never in the company of TCKs. Shepherd is particularly enthralled with Mary and seems to attribute her disagreeableness to her lack of control over her own circumstances. I think he’s feeling some justification and I’m riveted, not just to remember the story but to watch my sons interact with it.

    1. Amy Young May 29, 2014

      I am now inspired to have a book every so often that can be read aloud to kids! Or others in our lives! Maybe even to teammates kids?! I’m riveted to!

      1. Amy Young May 29, 2014

        ANd I meant to say thank you for this inspiring idea!!!

      2. Kimberly Todd May 29, 2014

        What a great idea!!!

  8. Patty Stallings May 27, 2014

    My first reading of The Secret Garden was in a children’s lit course.   All I really remember of the story is that I couldn’t put it down while reading it.  And now I’m picking it back up again with 30 years of life, three TCKs, and the author’s backstory to better inform my reading.

    1. Amy Young May 29, 2014

      I was trying to remember today the last time I’d read this … it’s got to be pushing 25 years :). And most definitely was before I had any deep understanding of what Mary’s transitions must have been like. I’ll be eager to hear your insights Patty!

  9. Beth May 28, 2014

    “When we move overseas, sometimes parts of our responsibilities or an aspect of our reputation or what we are known for changes.”

    Oh how true this is for me!  I have lived in five different countries in my 40 years of life and feel as if I have five different lives.  And that there is no one person who knows the whole me, just the me from that place we share.  What I was involved with in each place was so completely different from the other.

    I just added the book to my kindle and look forward to reading it these next few weeks.  Looking forward to the discussion too.  This is my first book club!

    1. Amy Young May 29, 2014

      Welcome!!! I think this is a great book to jump in with 🙂

      And I resonated deeply with the “five lives” — sometimes it is the most indescribable sensation to be so many people in one. I know this is true for every person, but I think it plays out in a special way when one has lived / served in different countries. Looking forward to getting to know some of the Beths 🙂

  10. Dawn Adkins May 30, 2014

    I am really looking forward to reading The Secret Garden for the first time and joining you all in my first book club!  Thanks for the opportunity.  Yes, I like learning about the author’s experiences and understanding their perspectives and I’m looking forward to learning about all of your perspectives too!

    1. Amy Young June 2, 2014

      Yippee Dawn! We’re glad you’re here!

  11. Denise June 2, 2014

    I read this out loud years ago to my older children, but have not read it with the thought of TCKs in mind. I am jumping in late, but I have today and tonight to read, so here I go.

    This will be my first time in your book club and am looking forward to it. I had no idea of the back story and am surprised she lived in the states. People back”home” would be surprised at how much I shop here. I really hate to shop, yet knowing where to find the good deals has become a big part of my life. I really need to learn Taobao!

    1. Amy Young June 2, 2014

      Never too late Denise! And we’ll be discussing it all month, so enjoy reading 🙂

  12. JulieB June 2, 2014

    I’m a bit late making my remarks here but……This book has been on my list for this year so I was excited to see that it is a book club book. My mother  (the English Lit prof) tried to get me to read this book as a child, but I never did.   Looking forward to the discussion!  Also – love knowing the back story – I’m always curious to know more about the writer and what might have influenced him/her to write the story.

    Also like the question you asked about our reputation and what we were known for back home that might surprise our team mates – and what we are known for here that might surprise the folks back home?  Well, when we first came here a year ago,  I was putting a positive spin on things and felt that I would have a “clean slate” to start with a new community and establish a new reputation of who I am.    I was a little surprised to find that  I have also grieved who I was and the reputation I had back home.  We were known in our community as we had lived there for the past 30 years;  my husband was a well liked teacher at the local Christian school for a number of years, and a pastor; I was a pediatric nurse. While we  have lived in Asia before many years ago, here, in this community, we are virtually nobodies!   A humbling experience!  A little harder than I thought it would be in that we are a bit older than the average “M” ( I’m on the last half of the 50’s) and looking at issues of “finishing well” while others are looking at much of their lives still ahead of them.  So far, with a fall I had in January on the crazy sidewalks here and the subsequent back problems and looming surgery in July I feel like my reputation has become “Invalid”!  That is so NOT me and NOT how I want to be known! ( a little pride coming through here I suspect!)  I was reminded though that Jesus who was known by the Father, came here to earth, to be born in order to die, and his reputation changed and was challenged many times during his earthly life!

    That was a good, thought provoking question for me!  How am I known and how do I want to be known?  It is good to be the newbie once in awhile – to remind us how it feels to be the newcomer and to reach out to the new comers.  Also good to examine my heart and look at the pride that may be hiding there, behind how I think I was known and how I want to be known.


    1. Amy Young June 2, 2014

      Ah yes, :), it is good to be a newbie, but as you pointed out, also stretching :). And when parts of our reputation are NOT the way we perceive ourselves — or want to be perceived — it’s maddening! AFter a serious illness years ago, my reputation on campus in China was similar to the one you have now “invalid” or “weak immune system.” WHAT?! No, that’s not the REAL me :). Glad to have you joining Julie!

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