The Secret Garden. (1888).
By Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924).
A Summary of the book:
The Secret Garden is about a garden that has been locked up for ten
years and is discovered by a young girl named Mary Lennox. Mary has
come from India, orphaned, spoiled, sickly and determined that she
will not like living with her uncle, Mr. Craven. She began caring for it
with the aid of her new friend Dickon. The garden and Mary experience
a great transformation.
While staying at her uncle's, Mary uncovered another secret, her cousin,
Colin. Colin believed he was incurable, bedridden and destined to die. His
tantrums were so frightening that the servants performed every request
made by him in order to keep him calm. Mary hoped that by taking Colin to
the garden he would learn to love the garden and its magic would work
wonders on him. The Secret Garden conveys a message of hope: a message
based on the powerful role of friendship in bringing about a change for the
About the author
Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) was born in Manchester, England,
on November 24, 1849 as Francis Eliza Hodgson, one of five children. After
her father's death, the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, USA in 1865.
Miss Hodgson began writing soon after. In 1886 she published Little Lord
Fauntleroy and then The Secret Garden(1888) amongst others. Frances
became a US citizen in 1905. She died on October 29, 1924.
An orphan A key anxiety
An invalid A robin fluently
A seed A secret gentry
Ivy To arrive excitement
a garden a seed to arrive angry an invalid
This is a story of redemption, rich with biblical symbolism and mythical
associations. In Mr. Craven and Mary's parents, readers find evidence of
adults who have failed as parents. Consequently, Mary and Colin are
physically and spiritually malnourished, and, in the words of Burnett,
Mr. Craven's redemption and rescue at the hands of Colin and his niece
Mary, ensures the return of good rule to the old, gloomy house and of health
to the children.
Dickon—constantly surrounded by fox, lamb, and bird—evokes St. Francis
or Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, a plain-speaking Yorkshire woman,
resembles the archetypal earth mother and embodies an ancient folk wisdom
seen neither in Craven nor in Mary's deceased parents. Invoking traditional
nature myths, Burnett aligns the spiritual growth of Mary and Colin with the
seasons. Mary arrives at Misselthwaite in winter a dour and unhealthy child.
She begins her gardening in the spring, and as crocuses and daffodils push
up through the warming earth, her body begins to bloom and her manners
to soften. Summer sees the complete regeneration of both Mary and Colin,
and by the time Craven returns to Misselthwaite in autumn, the children are
harvesting the fruits of their labour: health and happiness.
Finally, the main symbol of the book is the secret garden: a lost paradise of
love and happiness, a version, perhaps, of the Garden of Eden, now
reclaimed and rejuvenated.
Adapted from us.penguinclassics.com
Things to discuss
1. Discuss what it is like to move and some reasons why people move. Can
the pupils predict three things that Mary would find difficult and very
different moving from India to England?
2. How did Mary change through out the story? Where these change only
mental? Only physical? Or both? Why?
3. What is a Garden? What is not a Garden? Is the garden described in this
novel different from a garden you have? Why is it a secret garden?
4. Mary and Colin are often described as being unpleasant and rude.
Martha, in fact, says Mary is "as tyrannical as a pig" and that Colin is the
"worst young newt as ever was." Why are both of these children so ill-
tempered? Who does the author blame for their bad behaviour – themselves
or their parents?
5. Why did Mary and Colin agree that Mrs. Sowerby should know about their
6. Why does Mary respond so well to Martha? What characteristics of
Martha's personality are responsible for awakening the gentleness hidden in
Mary? Compare Martha's treatment of Mary to Mary's treatment of Colin.
Does it have the same effect on Colin as it does on Mary?
7. What caused the nurse and Dr. Craven to become suspicious that Colin
was no longer ill? What did Mary and Colin agree to do to throw off any
suspicions that Colin’s health was better?
8. Compare Dickon's upbringing with Mary's and Colin's. How is it different?
Is it important, or just incidental, that Dickon is a "common moor boy"
rather than a member of the "gentry"?
9. What is Mr Craven’s attitude to his son’s impairment? How do you think
Colin would be treated today – in the same way or differently? In what ways?
10. Ask students what magic has to do with the book, The Secret Garden.
For example “magic” makes the garden grow, Dickon uses magic to charm
the animals, Dickon's mother has magic, Colin learns to walk because of
magic. What magic are they talking about? Is it believing in yourself and
having a good self-esteem? What can each one of us do to increase our
self-esteem? Write ideas on the blackboard. Can pupils set a goal to
increase their self-esteem?
Adapted from www.easyfunschool.com and Us.penguinclassics.com
1. Find India on a globe or map. Then find England on this same map. Mary
would have probably had to travel by sea from India to England, trace the
route she might have taken. Find Yorkshire on the map of England.
2. Dickon planted several vegetables in his garden, including the potato.
Research potatoes. How nutritious are potatoes? Where did the potato
originate? What is the best type of soil for potatoes? Why? How long does it
take for potatoes to grow? What types of problems do growing potatoes
encounter? How can one prevent or remedy these problems?
3. Find out about the growing season in your area. What plants would you
expect to see first in Spring? Draw pictures of them and label them in
4. Research the relationship between the British colonialism and India. Write
5. Research the culture of India. Make a poster presentation of your findings.
6. Research the life and clothing styles of the early 1900’s in England. Make
a poster presentation of your findings.
7. Study the personal growth of Mary, Colin, and Mr. Craven and the change
that takes place in them. Make a flow diagram showing these changes.
8. In the book the author writes some of the dialogue using Yorkshire
dialect. Find such a passage. How different is it from Standard English? Can
the pupils find out what is being said? (Free downloads of the book can be
found on www.pagebypagebooks.com)
Adapted from www.easyfunschool.com and Teacherlink.ed.usu.edu
The Secret Garden Quiz
Put the sentences in the correct order. Write numbers in the boxes.
Then Mary went to England on a ship.
The story begins in India.
Mary argued with a boy called Basil.
went to Yorkshire.
Mary was going to live with Archibald Craven, her
Mrs Medlock met Mary in London.
aven found the children in the garden.
Mary’s parents died in India and she was an orphan.
They arrived at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire late
One night Mary found her cousin Colin, crying.
The next morning Mary met Martha.
The Secret Garden - Proper Nouns
Underline the proper nouns and give each one a capital letter.
The story begins in india.
mary’s parents died in india from a disease.
mary argued with a boy called basil.
Then mary went to england on a ship.
When she arrived in london, mrs medlock met her.
They travelled by train to yorkshire.
mary was going to live with archibald craven, her uncle.
mary and mrs. medlock didn’t like each other very much.
They arrived at misselthwaite manor late at night.
When mary awoke the next morning she met martha the maid.
mary was told that mr. craven had gone to london.
One night mary met a boy called colin.
The name of the gardener at misselthwaite manor was
The Secret Garden: Synonyms
1. Find synonyms for these words that describe Mary. Write both
the question and the answer in your book.
a) “She had a little face.” “She had a _____ face.”
b) “She had a thin face.” “She had a _____ face.”
c) “She had light hair.” “She had _______ hair.”
2. Find synonyms for these words that describe Colin. Write both
the question and the answer in your book.
a) “He had wide eyes.” “He had _______ eyes.”
b) “He had a sad face.” “He had a _______ face.”
c) “He looked ill.” “He looked _______.”
3. Find synonyms for these words that describe Dickon. Write
both the question and the answer in your book.
a) “He had round eyes.” “He had _________ eyes.”
b) “His pipe made a little sound.” “His pipe made a ____ sound.”
c) “He was not pleased to see Mary.” “He was not _______ to see
4. Write four sentences describing the person next to you. Use
lots of really good adjectives.
Adapted from www.primaryresources.co.uk
From Book to film
Subtitled DVD of The Secret Garden
Copies of Chapter 8 from the The Secret Garden where Mary finds and enters
You have seen the film/DVD of The Secret Garden.
Making a film from a classic children’s book like The Secret Garden is a
complex process. Screenwriters have to re-interpret the story, whilst staying
true to the themes of the book.
Film scripts differ to storybooks in the way the story is set out. In the book
the story is told through the eyes of the narrator. There are descriptions of
India and Yorkshire, the children’s thoughts and feelings and the passing of
time. In the film, images replace the narrator. The script is precise: it uses
short sentences to describe the scene and the characters dialogue.
1. Make a film script of the following episode from chapter 8 of the book.
(See the example from the lesson plan “Narnia”.)
The Robin showed the way
Mary skipped round all the gardens and round the orchard, resting every few
minutes. At length she went to her own special walk and made up her mind
to try if she could skip the whole length of it. It was a good long skip and she
began slowly, but before she had gone half-way down the path she was so
hot and breathless that she had to stop. She did not mind much, because
she had already counted up to thirty. She stopped with a little laugh of
pleasure, and there, lo and behold, was the robin swaying on a long branch
A robin ivy
He had followed her and he greeted her with a chirp. As Mary had skipped
toward him she felt something heavy in her pocket strike against her at each
jump, and when she saw the robin she laughed again.
"You showed me where the key was yesterday," she said. "You ought to show
me the door today; but I don't believe you know!"
The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he
opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in
the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off--and they
are nearly always doing it.
Mary Lennox had heard a great deal about Magic in her Ayah's stories, and
she always said that what happened almost at that moment was Magic.
One of the nice little gusts of wind rushed down the walk, and it was a
stronger one than the rest. It was strong enough to wave the branches of the
trees, and it was more than strong enough to sway the trailing sprays of
untrimmed ivy hanging from the wall. Mary had stepped close to the robin,
and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy trails, and more
suddenly still she jumped toward it and caught it in her hand. This she did
because she had seen something under it--a round knob which had been
covered by the leaves hanging over it. It was the knob of a door.
She put her hands under the leaves and began to pull and push them aside.
Thick as the ivy hung, it nearly all was a loose and swinging curtain, though
some had crept over wood and iron. Mary's heart began to thump and her
hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement. The robin kept singing
and twittering away and tilting his head on one side, as if he were as excited
as she was. What was this under her hands which was square and made of
iron and which her fingers found a hole in?
It was the lock of the door which had been closed ten years and she put her
hand in her pocket, drew out the key and found it fitted the keyhole. She put
the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.
And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to
see if any one was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it
seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it,
and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door
which opened slowly--slowly.
Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back
against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and
wonder, and delight. She was standing inside the secret garden.
Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924). The Secret Garden. (1888).