When I was eight, we went to live in Scotland, just for a year — my dad did a swap with a Scottish teacher. She lived in our house and did his job and we lived in her house and he took her classes. We lived in this house in a pretty and historical small village.
For me, it was a magical move. For a start, I’d never lived in a two story house — in Australia back then most houses (except for inner city terrace houses) were single story. I’d read all these lovely English stories where people had attics, but I’d never had one or even seen one, and this house not only had an attic, it was reached by a “secret” stairway through a cupboard door. So exciting. And from an angled window set into the attic ceiling, you could look out over the rooftops and see an ancient Pictish tower.
We arrived in the heart of winter and the big garden was all covered in snow — again, something magical for me, though the snow was frozen and packed too hard to make a snowman. But when the snow eventually started to melt, I couldn’t believe that the poor frozen plants under the snow could come back to life again, but they did. It was my very own “secret garden” experience and I’ve never forgotten it.
Do you know the Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett? It’s a Victorian-era story of a spoiled, disagreeable child, Mary Lennox, who was born in colonial India, and when orphaned, had to start life again in very different circumstances in England. She meets her neurotic crippled cousin and a wholesome country boy, and together they discover and restore a secret garden, and in doing so, heal themselves. I loved it as a child.
Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote a number of books for children. I was a real bookworm as a kid — nothing has changed there — and I learned quite young to remember author’s names, and that if I liked one book by an author, I was likely to enjoy their other books as well.
My other favorite of her books was The Little Princess. Again it was about a child who started life in colonial India, but though she was indulged and pampered, she was a sweetie. When she’s orphaned her life changes dramatically — she goes from being a rich girl in an exclusive girls’ boarding school, to being an unregarded drudge. Lovely story. I might have to read them both again. (Note, the link for the Little Princess takes you to a kindle file with both of these stories.)