Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
|Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Re-issued to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the original publication this book is rightly regarded as one of the best books in children's literature. It's highly recommended by The Bookbag. Every child should have a copy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: September 2008|
When Peter Long had measles his brother Tom went to stay with his childless aunt and uncle in a flat with no garden and a landlady of uncertain temperament. As Tom is in quarantine he can't go out to play with other children and lacking exercise he finds it difficult to sleep at night: counting the number of times that the grandfather clock strikes becomes a habit. It's an unnerving thirteen which persuades Tom to go down to the communal hall and investigate.
His aunt and uncle had told him that there was no garden but when he opens the back door he walks into a large, sunlit garden, with lawns and trees. But when he takes this up with his relatives the next day he sees the cramped back yard which has taken the garden's place. That night he ventures downstairs again and the garden has returned. Better still he discovers another lonely child, a young girl called Hatty, and together they play and explore the garden.
For the twenty-first century child grown used to Alex Ryder and Young Bond this book will seem tame but there are reasons why it has been in print continuously for fifty years. The story of Tom's illicit visits to the garden and his relationship with Hatty builds gradually. On each visit Hatty is a different age and whilst Tom is going to the garden every night the gaps for Hatty are often months or even years. They're not chronologically in sequence either.
It takes Tom a little while to work out that Hatty is a Victorian whilst he is living in the middle of the twentieth century and for a while he wonders if Hatty is a ghost – at one point he even considers whether or not he himself is a ghost. The questions about the nature of time and reality are dealt with in a way which a child will understand and there's even a conclusion that allows you to believe that the midnight garden and other places are being projected from the mind of a third party.
Tom's experience of the garden lasts for just a few weeks but Hatty grows in that space of time from an unloved orphan at the mercy of her aunt and cousins to a confident young woman on the brink of marriage. It's impossible not to be drawn into the story, to be totally convinced by it and the reunion of Tom and the elderly Hatty is so moving (without being sentimental) that it almost had me in tears. The writing is simple and straightforward but it's one of those moments in children's literature which stays in the mind.
The book which I reviewed is a fiftieth anniversary limited edition and the dust cover features the original artwork by Susan Einzig. It's the volume much as it would have looked when it was published in 1958. Whilst the book obviously reflects the time in which it was written it doesn't feel in the least dated and this would make a splendid gift for any child.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
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