Then, as my mother read those first few pages of The Yearling, I saw blue-gray smoke rising from the chimney of a simple cabin, and watching the smoke drift into the sky was a boy named Jody Baxter. I recognized him right away. He was so like me: skinny, blond, solitary. I moved, as my mother read the words, into the clearing in the Florida swampland where the Baxters lived their hardscrabble lives. I could hear the insects buzzing and the bubbling sound of the little spring, and I could see the glisten of the dark magnolia leaves and smell the thick pines.
Lois Lowry tells NPR‘s “You Must Read This” how Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ influenced her later years as a Newberry Award winning writer. Originally hoping to write about young, triumphant women like those in Little Women and The Secret Garden, The Yearling, Lowry says, showed her the importance of and the poetry in lives without triumph, lives of loneliness and struggle. Her works have come to resemble this one far more than those other classics for little girls.
A few weeks prior to Lowry’s column, Sloane Crosley told “You Must Read This” about her adoration of The Secret Garden. Crosley, an essayist with a new book out this month called I Was Told There’d Be Cake, discusses how Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story of Mary Lennox made her dubious of “spring renewal”. The book, she says, is not particularly nice, and sets forth unravelling what she calls its “goody-goody reputation”.
The illustrations, wistful sketches that adorn each chapter, should have been rendered by Edward Gorey. The Secret Garden is about neglect. Of plants and of people.
Two different, fascinating readings of books considered classics for young adult readers. I love how these writers, Lowry and Crosley, are generations apart, and yet one particular book links them. Lowry read The Secret Garden
< in the 1940s as a pre-teen; so did Crosley four decades later. Both reacted in ways that we now benefit from as readers of their work.
You Must Read This” is one NPR’s best features.