CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 11. . . .November 17, 2017
The Secret Garden. (10 Minute Classics).
Frances Hodgson Burnett. Retold by Elizabeth Goodnight. Illustrated by Toko Hosoya.
Franklin, TN: Flowerpot Press (Distributed in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son), 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.
The Secret Garden is a retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel originally published in 1911, which has been named one of the best books for children published in the 20th century. As recently as 2012, School Library Journal published survey results which listed Burnett's story of Mary Lennox, an "orphan of the Raj" (as they were known in the days of the British Empire) as number 15 on a list of all-time favourite children's novels.
This "lushly illustrated" picture book is yet another in a series of ultra-condensed classics which are designed for an audience of young readers (or perhaps less-than-assiduous students who have been assigned the original). Moby Dick and King Arthur appear in the "10 minute" list, while others such as Beowulf and Jane Eyre (everything from Shakespeare to Steinbeck is, in fact, what the publishers advertise) can be found on the list of a series called “Book-a-Minute Super-condensed Classics”.
So, what do we make of the Canadian publisher's claim that this 10 minute classic "complete with gorgeously lush artwork...has created a unique and captivating work which will transform (this title ) into a memorable experience for children across the country." Granted, sharing this picture book with an older reader could turn out to be a "unique experience", particularly if that reader has not read the original, or has forgotten the beautifully written, brilliant characterization, and superior evocation of place which The Secret Garden brought to readers of all ages over a century ago.
The inevitable questions then must be asked: Does Elizabeth Goodnight's re-telling measure up to the superbly dramatic and suspenseful original with its universal themes which has held readers in its thrall for over a century? Is it really fair to compare the latter with the former?
The short answer is probably "No" in both instances. Older adults who have read and loved Burnett's story will be saddened that so few of today's young people read the original Secret Garden, a truly unique and captivating book which does not need the "lush artwork" of Toko Hosoya to draw young readers into the story. It is highly doubtful that being exposed to this version of The Secret Garden will inspire middle-years readers to search out the original. The "lush artwork" of Hosoya is very far from the wonderful illustrations or "decorations" by Tasha Tudor whose understated black and white pencil sketches perfectly depict each character. One wonders why Hosoya, a young artist from Toronto who is a student at OCAD university, has chosen to depict Ben Weatherstaff as a long-bearded fellow who looks more like the Ancient Mariner than a gruff Yorkshire gardener. The artist has a habit of assembling all her paintings on each page as stand-alone subjects, including a very odd composition of the secret garden wherein each tree or flower stands separately. And, in the final scene where Colin runs to meet his newly-returned father, he, Mary, Colin and Mr. Craven character all have basically the same face and expression.
This version of The Secret Garden at $21.99 is not worth the price. Rather than spending money on yet another over-illustrated picture book, a librarian or teacher might spend some money on a set of the Yearling original editions for Grades 5 to 7 students to enjoy in a literature circle.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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