It’s that time again, time for another round of Six Degrees of Kool Books! Mostly, I’m just thrilled to be able to participate. Many thanks once again to JL Mbewe and DJ Edwardson for covering me for the past two weeks while the website was down, but now, happily, I’m back! I had a lot to get caught up on, but I’m going to dive right in and link to a character from DJ’s blog in last week’s post.
The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books, so I didn’t have a very hard time recalling the characters. And as I thought about them, I was struck again by the many similarities between that and Rainbow Garden by Patricia St. John. The parallels are hard to ignore. In both stories, a young girl is sent to the country for various reasons. In both stories that young girl is not extremely likable. In both stories there is an amazing transformation in more than one of the characters. And in both stories there is a somewhat spoiled, selfish, cross child who is an invalid. In The Secret Garden, Colin Craven plays that role. DJ described him as “an irritable, demanding child.” In Rainbow Garden, a similar character exists in Philippa. Philippa is a young neighbor girl who does not appear until about halfway through the book. The year before, she contracted polio and has been away at hospitals being treated, and although her life was saved, she has lost the use of her legs. This has served to make her very irritable, cross, and demanding. She is not always unpleasant to be around, and doesn’t throw the massive temper tantrums that Colin throws, but she can be snappy, surly, and prone to throwing pity parties because of being crippled.
Interestingly enough, J.L. Mbewe picked Colin for her Six Degrees Installment today as well! Go see what character he reminded her of HERE.
The story is told in the first-person perspective by Elaine, a young girl whose mother is a bit of a social butterfly and sends her daughter to the country to live with the Owens so that she can take a job in France. Elaine does not mean to be, but she is a vain, self-centered child who has always been pampered and allowed to do whatever she likes. Moving to the country to live with a large family and being expected to help with household chores does nothing to create a more likable personality. In addition to this, she is scared of many of the things the Owen children want to do (like climb trees and run across the countryside pell-mell), but is too proud to admit being scared, and so declares their games “babyish” and refused to take part in them… despite desperately wishing she could find the courage to join in, and wanting to be liked and invited to come along.
Of the other characters in the book there are many. There is Janet, the oldest of the Owen children who shares her bedroom with Elaine. She is a vibrant, thoughtful person who can also be a bit scatter-brained. Although she tries to befriend Elaine, her first attempts are rebuffed and she stops trying after a while and begins to exclude Elaine in favor of hanging out with her brother Peter. Peter is the second oldest of the Owen children and is more shy than his older sister, but also more opinionated. He has less patience and yet is just as thoughtful in his own, albeit gruffer, way.
There are four other Owen children, but they are much more secondary characters. Robin, the second-youngest, with his much-beloved stuffed elephant named Jumbo. Johnny, the third-oldest who mostly just wants to do whatever his oldest siblings are interested in, and enjoys food. Lucy, the baby, who is basically a typical baby and doesn’t come into the story much. My favorite of the bunch of secondary-characters is Frances, a sweet, shy, quiet little girl who, as the middle child of 6 is the one who is often stuck in that in-between stage. Too old to really be one of the “babies” and too young to often be included in the older children’s wilder romps, Frances may not have a lot of page-time, but she will steal your heart in the moments when she is featured.
Mr. Owen is the Vicar of the nearby country church. He is very busy, but never too busy for his family. He loves his children dearly and accepts Elaine as an adopted daughter from the first moment.
Mrs. Owen is a very different sort of mother than the one Elaine has always known. She is the glue that holds the family together and the WD-40 that keeps everything running smoothly. In true “mother of six” fashion, she can get interrupted from serious conversations at times and it will often take her a moment to change gears when a sudden or unexpected request is made of her. She does not like to be gone from her family for long, but she knows when to take time out for something important. She is wise and thoughtful and understanding of the various whims and different personalities of little ones.
I love the characters in this story. I love their realness, their every-day-ness. I love the vivid descriptions and the very realistic everyday experiences of the characters. But mostly I love that in this story, the transformation that takes place in Elaine, and eventually Philippa, has nothing to do with “magic,” or some sort of hokey “if you just believe in yourself enough, you can do anything” sort of nonsense. The change in Elaine comes about from watching this family and being told about Jesus. Within the first week of being with the Owens, Elaine happens upon an old gravestone that has a worn inscription that she can barely make out, “In …… is fulness of joy.” This phrase catches her attention, tugs at her heart, and preys on her mind. Where can fulness of joy be found? It sounds like something worth pursuing.
I love that this story tells the Gospel message without feeling corny or ridiculous or overly “spiritual.” Perhaps because it is being told from a child’s perspective it works, or perhaps it is simply the beautiful writing that conveys the message so simply and weaves it so intricately into the plot that it somehow just “fits.” Either way, it is a beautiful story, with an even more beautiful message. And I love that even rereading it this past weekend, many parts of the book brought me to tears yet again.
Do you blog? Do you love reading? Do any of the characters I mentioned here remind you of characters in other books? You are more than welcome to join in the fun that is Six Degrees of Kool Books! For more information on how to play, click HERE.
And let us know that you are participating over on DJ’s post by filling in the Mister Linky Widget with your name and blog post URL HERE.
P.S. Sadly, apparently this book underwent a revision in 2002 and many of the descriptions were removed and the language simplified (and even some of the scenes were ordered differently). As I think the book is beautiful just the way it is, my recommendation would be that, if per chance you do go looking for this book to read it, you want the original 1960 unrevised edition (apparently all the digital versions are of the revised edition).
Just my helpful tip of the day!