Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Review: Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

How did I miss this book? I thought maybe it was a contemporary historic book, but nope, it was published in 1958. Young Tom is sent off to his childless aunt and uncle when his brother gets the measles. At first he's expecting the summer to really be boring and awful, but one night when the landlady's grandfather clock strikes 13, he sneaks downstairs from the apartment to the back door, and finds a magical garden. Every night after that, he sneaks out. At first he thinks no one can see or hear him, but he eventually find out the young girl in the house, Hatty, can in fact see and hear him.

Tom and Hatty climb trees, shoot bow and arrows, and just play. Tom lives for his nights when he can sneak out, and back into the Victorian era. He writes his brother long letters describing everything that happens, to tide him over in his convalescence. Eventually Tom notices that Hatty is getting much older. Time in the garden doesn't move at the same speed as in the now. And Tom starts to wonder about the magic that creates this window into the past, and its link to the mysterious grandfather clock that chimes the wrong time.

This book uses a lot of typical middle reader tropes - magic, time-travel, a secret friend - and yet they feel fresh and exciting. I was riveted to the story and couldn't wait to find out the secrets myself. The story is magical and atypical. The aunt and uncle aren't horrible. The big nightmare about staying with them is a little boredom, and rich foods. Hatty is a little bit of a tomboy but not overly so. Ms. Pearce didn't take the easy way out by going to extremes and jumping on stereotypes. All the characters are three-dimensional and fully-drawn. With a boy as the main character, and a girl as the major secondary character, it would appeal equally to both genders. A lovely and captivating story, I wish I'd discovered it when I was a child.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.


Julie P. said...

I missed out on this one too, but it does look like a wonderful MG read! I'm going to show your review to Booking Daughter!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

What a wonderful book that I think both my son and daughter would love. I will see if my library has it. I never read it as a child. Thanks for this little gem of discovery.

Rebecca Chapman said...

This was one of my favourites when I was a child - I could read it over and over again.

I reread it last year and was surprised that it still seemed just as magical to me. I so used to wish that I had a magical and secret land that I could disappear to.

This is one that I will definitely be reading to my children.