The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett

New York, Grosset & Dunlap 1911

6.4" x 9.4"

Kerlan Collection, Children's Literature Research Collections

University of Minnesota Libraries

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote swiftly and confidently, a habit acquired in youth when she sold her first stories to help support her widowed mother and family. "My object is remuneration," the writer, still in her teens, had boldly informed the first magazine editor to be offered her work.

Two actual gardens served as backdrops for the writing of this manuscript. Burnett had her first inklings of the novel while working at her writing table in the rose garden at Great Maytham Hall, the manor house in Rolvenden, Kent, that she had made her home in 1898 after initiating divorce proceedings against her first husband. She later composed the book while laying out the garden and grounds of her next and last home, in Plandome Manor, New York.

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Things to Think About

"We understand that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression represent systems of inequity that are embedded, translated, and practiced in policies, laws, and social mores. Our goal is to lovingly encourage educators to begin equipping children with insights and strategies that can be used to interrupt these systems in collective and intentional ways" (Engaging Children in Conversations about Oppression Using Children's Literature, Gloria Boutte and Meir Muller).

We recall this novel (reminiscent of adult Victorian Gothic Literature) of Mary Lennox, a child of English colonists in India, orphaned and unloved (and unlovable), traumatized by her circumstances, and dropped in the country estate of an uncle she never had met. Then there is Colin, her uncle's son, hidden away, abandoned physically by his mother's accidental death and emotionally by his grieving father. Colin has an unspecified illness that has rendered him bedridden and unable to walk.

If we review the criteria as presented by A Checklist to Evaluate Children's Books that Address Disability as a Part of Diversity (

  • To gain acceptance and approval, the child with a disability should not have to exhibit extraordinary qualities, such as exceptional memory or math skills. The child should not have to walk or run with his friends to be accepted by them.
  • This story should be told in the same way even if the main character did not have a disability.

However, in The Secret Garden, the story's plot and happy ending depend on Colin's struggle and eventual ability to walk.

Alexandra Valint unpacks much more than the ableism in The Secret Garden. Valint helps readers examine and understand the disability stereotypes, classism, and gender roles as displayed by "Colin's 'miraculous cure'" which depends partially "on his own faith in his superiority to the working-class Dickon Sowerby and to his female cousin, Mary Lennox... Colin's attainment of ability is intertwined with embodying an upper-class masculinity and rests on compelling Dickon and Mary into muteness and invisibility in the novel's conclusion" ("Wheel Me Over There!": Disability and Colin's Wheelchair in The Secret Garden).

Boutte, Gloria and Muller, Meir. Engaging Children in Conversations about Oppression Using Children's Literature. Talking Points, Volume 30, Number 1, NCTE 2018.

A Checklist to Evaluate Children's Books that Address Disability as a Part of Diversity

Valint, A. (2016). "Wheel Me Over There!": Disability and Colin's Wheelchair in The Secret Garden. Children's Literature Association Quarterly 41(3), 263-280. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from Project MUSE database.

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The Secret Garden