Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Frances Hodgson Burnett: Beyond the Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett: Beyond the Secret Garden

Angelica Shirley Carpenter, Jean Shirley
For ages 10 to 12
Lerner, 1990   ISBN: 978-0822549055

Frances Hodgson Burnett was a rarity. Not only was she a successful author in her own lifetime, but she supported her family by writing stories and she had a very active career – something few women dared to do in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In all Frances wrote more than sixty books for adults and children though it was three of her children’s stories which were the most popular: “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “The Little Princess,” and “The Secret Garden.”

Frances was born in England and she was fifteen when she, her mother, her two brothers and two sisters moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. The family was very poor and life was hard but Frances and her siblings were always clean and carefully dressed even when there was little food to go around. When she was just eighteen Frances sold her first story and soon she was supporting her family with her writing.

Frances worked very hard, churning out “pot boilers” which were very popular and which suited the fashion of the time. She would get tired writing these kinds of stories at times and then she would take a trip to see new places and new people, to be refreshed, and to find new tales to tell.

In 1884 Frances wrote her first children’s book, “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” after her little son Vivian asked her to write something which “little boys would like to read.” The main character in the story, Cedric, is very much like Vivian and it is the kind of the rags-to-riches tale which readers of all ages cannot help loving. The book was enormously popular and it went on to be turned into many plays and movies as were Frances’ other children’s books, “The Little Princess,” and “The Secret Garden.”

Even though these three books were written a long time ago, they are still able to cast a spell over their readers, taking them to the streets of New York and London, and to the wild moors of Yorkshire; from a stark servant’s garret room to a hidden garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story is sure to interest people who have read her books and this biography gives readers an excellent portrait in words of what she must have been like; brave, bold, adventurous, ambitious, loving, and immensely creative.