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The Secret Garden
A Literature Mini Unit

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a timeless classic. Here are some unit activities to go along with this wonderful book.

A full length copy of this book is available on the internet at:
http://www.literatureproject.com/secret-garden/index.htm or

Book Summary:

Mary, a bitter young orphan girl from India, is brought to England to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire Moors. Upon encountering numerous problems in adjusting to the rigid, lonely, and unfamiliar life of her uncle's mansion, she gradually befriends Dicken and her cousin Colin. Together, they venture to restore the Secret Garden, into which entry had been forbidden by Mary's uncle. The story culminates when the garden flourishes once again; and Mary's cousin is able to walk again, thanks to her, after spending years confined to a bed, believing he was forever destined to be a hunchback. The Secret Garden conveys a message of hope--a message based on the powerful role of friendship in bringing about a change for the better.

About the Author:*

Frances Eliza Hodgson was born on November 24, 1849, in Manchester, England, the third of Edwin Hodgson's and Eliza Boond's five children. Her father ran a prosperous firm which specialized in the trade of decorative arts for the interiors of houses. At the time, Manchester was experiencing a textile boom which infused the town with a rising middle class, and because these families were erecting magnificent houses, Hodgson's merchandise was in demand. The prosperity of the Hodgson family was cut short in 1854 when Edwin suffered a stroke. Even more devastating to the family fortune was the American Civil War, which caused a cessation of cotton shipments from Southern plantations, crippling Manchester's economy. Eliza Hodgson decided to emigrate to America, and in 1865, when Burnett was sixteen, the family settled in a small town about twenty-five miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. This move would prove instrumental in Burnett's development as a writer. Although she had always been obsessed with storytelling and often amused her schoolmates by acting out tales of adventure and romance, the financial strain of the emigration caused her to turn to writing as a means of supplementing the family's income. The move from industrial England to rural America was for the family a journey to the green, natural world that would become a central theme in many of Burnett's later works, including The Secret Garden.

Burnett's first published story, "Miss Carruthers' Engagement," appeared in a magazine called Godey's Lady's Book in 1868. After the death of her mother in 1872, the family became increasingly dependent on her writing income. She accelerated her career as a popular writer and sold stories to many magazines. In September of 1873 she married Swann Burnett, a doctor from Tennessee who was preparing to specialize in the treatment of the eye and ear. He wished to further his specialty by studying in Europe, and Burnett financed his wish, once again becoming responsible for the bulk of her family's income. In 1874, she gave birth to her son Lionel and began work on her first major novel, The Lass o' Lowries. The critical response was encouraging, and many reviews compared Burnett's work to that of Charlotte BrontŽ and Henry James. In 1879 she published her novel Haworth, her first attempt at serious fiction. Later that same year, one of her first children's stories appeared in St. Nicholas, a magazine in which she would publish for years to come. It is at this time that Burnett, who was constantly battling illness, acquainted herself with the philosophies of Spiritualism, Theosophy, Mind Healing, and Christian Science. These philosophies' ideas about the healing powers of the mind became a crucial motif in much of her writing, most notably in A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and The Lost Prince.

In 1886 Little Lord Fauntleroy, the book that transformed Burnett's life, was published. It became a runaway bestseller in America and England. While the success of the book branded Burnett a popular and romantic writer rather than a serious artist, it provided her with enough income to free her from an unhappy marriage and allow her to travel through Europe. In 1890 Burnett's first son Lionel was diagnosed with consumption and died that same year. By 1898, Burnett and Swann divorced by mutual consent, and she leased a country house in England where she immersed herself in her passion for gardening. The estate was surrounded by several walled gardens, one of which, a rose garden, served as her outdoor workroom. It was here that the idea of The Secret Garden was born.

Over the course of her life, Burnett wrote more than forty books, for both adults and children. While her adult novels are considered to be quite sentimental, her children's books have withstood the fickleness of literary fashions. The Secret Garden, the story of how Mary Lennox and her friends find independence as they tend their garden, has been described as one of the most satisfying children's books ever written. Frances Hodgson Burnett died of congestive heart failure on October 29, 1924.


1. Locate India on a globe or flat map. Then locate 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.

2. Grow a window box of flowers or help weed a garden while reading this book.

3. Dickon planted several vegetables in his garden, including the potato. Research potatoes. What part of the potato plant do we eat? 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?

4. Here is an art lesson that you may use to accompany The Secret Garden.

5. Study the moors of England. You can view some pictures at:

6. Read the book and watch one of the video reproductions of The Secret Garden. Compare the book and the movie version. How are the alike? How are they different? And, which did you prefer?

7. Find out about the growing season in your area. What plants would you expect to see first? Draw pictures of each of the plants that you find.

8. Begin a nature journal. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Include pictures that you draw of what you see.

9. Research the relationship between the British colonialism and India.

10. Research the life and clothing styles of the early 1900ís in England.

Discussion Questions:

1. How did Mary change through out the story? Where these change only mental? Only physical? Or both? Why?

2. What is a Garden? What is not a Garden? Are gardens natural? Is the garden described in this novel different from a garden you have in your own yard? Why secret? What does secrecy suggest?

3. 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? Whom does Burnett hold responsible for their behavior Ė themselves or their parents? How does this fit into one of the larger themes of the novel, that of the "fallen world of adults"?

4. "Disagreeable-looking child"? Looks? Mrs. Medlock is called "disagreeable." Look at the word in this context. How does this word suggest inner states of being?

5. Why did Mary and Colin agree that Mrs. Sowerby could be let in on the secret?

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 was Colin doing that caused the nurse and Dr. Craven to become suspicious that Colin was no longer sickly? What did Mary and Colin agree must be done in order to throw off any suspicions as to the extent of Colinís improvement?

8. Upon Mary's first encounter with Dickon, Burnett describes the boy in this way: "His speech was so quick and easy. It sounded as if he liked her and was not the least afraid she would not like him, though he was a common moor boy, in patched clothes and with a funny face and a rough, rusty-red head. As she came closer to him she noticed that there was a clean fresh scent of heather and grass and leaves about him, almost as if he were made of them." What is significant about this passage? Are there any particular motifs that seem to be connected specifically to Dickon?

9. How did Mrs. Sowerby help Mary and Colin overcome their difficulty of eating less? What did Colin conclude about Mrs. Sowerby from this? How did Dickon further help the ravenous children?

10. 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 "privileged class"?

11. What did Dickon learn from Bob Haworth which helped Colin build up his weak muscles?

12. How did Mary and Colinís newfound sources for nourishment reawaken the nurse, Dr. Craven, and Mrs. Medlockís suspicions?

13. Referring to Colinís mother, Mary said to Colin, "You are so like her now that sometimes I think perhaps you are her ghost made into a boy." How did Colin respond to this?

Vocabulary Words:
clotted cream

*About the Author information taken from http://www.teachervision.com/lesson-plans/lesson-4411.html


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