Why? This is what I ask myself when modern authors take it upon themselves to give a modern twist to classic children’s novels. Would you re-write The House at Pooh Corner so that it ends with Christopher Robin giving away Pooh to a jumble sale? Or have Mole and Ratty eaten by predators and Badger gassed in his cosy home in the middle of the Wild Wood? Sequels need not be bad books. Hilary McKay’s Wishing for Tomorrow, a sequel to A Little Princess and Five Children on the Western Front, in which Kate Saunders takes the Psammead into the First World War are both rather good. These writers, as well as Holly Webb, author of Return to the Secret Garden, probably see their work as homage because they genuinely love the originals.
Return to the Secret Garden is set in 1939 and 1940. Modern writers just can’t keep away from World Wars, it seems. Emmie lives in the Craven (Ho!) home for orphans in London when the children are evacuated to the north of England. Evacuated to, of course, Misselthwaite Manor. Emmie is rather like Mary Lennox: thin, sallow, cross. She’s broken hearted because she has to leave behind a stray cat she’s adopted. At first she finds the vast house and the endless moor around it frightening after London. Then she discovers the gardens, one gardener in particular, a robin, and the garden, now tended and full of roses. She loves it and is allowed to help look after it. But the house has its mysteries. Why does Jack, the young son of the house, seem to hate the new inmates? Who cries in the night? Who wrote the diaries which she finds in a drawer in her room? By the end of the book she has learned the true identities of Mr and Mrs Craven and Miss and Mr Sowerby and linked them to the children of the past. There is one real tragedy and a nearly happy ending. The book is a good read but, I ask again, why write it? It’s true that the children of The Secret Garden are the right age to have lived through two World Wars but couldn’t we just leave them in the past?
( Katy )