Emma, have I read a story that begins with such an unlikable heroine. But I knew there was hope, and pressed on. Ten year old Mary Lennox has been orphaned by a cholera epidemic and sent to live with an unknown uncle. The truth is that she was an orphan long before the disease took her parents because her socialite mother had ignored her for most of her life. Neglected by her family and spoiled by her servants, she has become surly and selfish. At her uncle's house she meets a sickly, self-centered young boy and the novel describes their redemption. The discovery of a locked-up garden plays an integral part in their transformation; as the garden comes back to life, so do they.
The Secret Garden is a delightful story with lovely descriptions of nature. As a read-aloud, it would be a perfect way to introduce younger children to the glories of springtime with phrases such as this: They drew the chair under the plum tree, which was snow-white with blossoms and musical with bees. It also has a charming array of characters from the crotchety gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, to the no-nonsense servant Martha Sowersby to her wise and loving mother, Susan.
Magic is mentioned throughout the story. Mary believes in it because she's seen snake charmers in India. Dickon is considered magical because he knows all about nurturing plants and animals. Sometimes the magic is the lavish grace of spring. Sometimes it's a mother's love. Sometimes it's will power. Sometimes it's the power of positive thinking. This dizzying array of explanations for anything that appears to be supernatural was okay with me until Chapter 23 when Colin loudly declares that he can do anything because "the magic is in me," which seemed a little too New-Age-y. BUT the author redeemed herself by having the children respond to the "magic" in the only way they can think of - by singing the doxology. Again, as a read-aloud, this book would offer a great opportunity to talk with your children about how God is behind all of these miraculous events: springtime, love, healing, etc.
My enjoyment of this book was greatly enhanced by the version I downloaded from Audible.com because the author pronounced the Yorkshire accents beautifully.
(Barbara at Stray Thoughts discusses the magic theme more thoroughly in her post here.)