This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.
Below is the twelfth post in the series, by my very own editor extraordinaire Zareen Jaffery, whose brilliance and insight makes Dr. Sheldon Cooper look like a trilobite or something. Also, she helped me make my Cavendish bugs. In other words: I LOVE HER.
. . . Ahem.
Read on as Zareen talks about one of her favorite childhood middle grade books, The Secret Garden. Then check out the giveaway!
My parents moved to the United States in 1976, a few years before I was born, and brought one book with them from Pakistan: the Quran. It was wrapped in a turquoise silk cover sewn by my grandmother. Its soft yellowed pages were filled with unfamiliar letters, and the words seemed magical when my mom recited from it.
It’s no wonder that books became objects of reverence and fascination for me before I ever learned how to read.
As our family grew roots in this country our book collection grew, too. It was the summer I turned seven and we moved to Connecticut that we hit the home library jackpot. The previous owners of the house left a cabinet of their books behind, including leather bound editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, The Little Princess, and what would become my favorite, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.
We always had gardens in our backyard (my mother was a botanist) and the idea of a secret garden sent my imagination spinning. As one of five kids, I was forced to share everything—even bath time! Mary, the heroine of The Secret Garden, had a little corner of the world all her own. Not that it stayed that way for long.
Once I met 10-year-old Mary Lennox, I was captivated. She was rude, selfish, and also very lonely. Both her parents had died from an outbreak of cholera while they were stationed in India, the only home Mary had ever known. My life was filled with sisters and brothers and parents and friends. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for a kid to be alone. Turns out, not so fun. I felt for Mary. I rooted for her. I wanted badly for her to make friends and have a family. She was sent to England to live with her absentee uncle in a drafty, opulent mansion. When she befriended a local boy Dickon, and helped her not-really-crippled cousin Colin, all in this secret place she nursed back to life, it helped me understand what it meant to be a good friend. It showed me that kids are capable of doing amazing things.
And the book began in India! My memories of a summer or two spent in Pakistan were vague, but I had overheard enough of my parents’ conversations to know the countries were similar. In fact, my mother’s family had lived in what was now India before the Partition in 1947 separated India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. South Asia was never mentioned in any children’s book I’d read, and none of my classmates or friends had any clue how different life was in that part of the world, or that it even existed. Seeing it through Mary’s eyes made it feel more real to me (amazing how fiction can do that). I was curious about the place my parents grew up, and Mary had lived there.
The Secret Garden wasn’t the first chapter book I read (Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory gets that honor), but it opened up the world to me in a special way. It was the first book that I carried with me, needing to read a few pages whenever I could sneak them in between classes or at the dinner table. It dealt with issues that were sad and serious. It reminded me to see magic in the everyday. Turns out, I didn’t need superpowers or a holographic computer named Synergy to have adventures. Planting a garden, befriending someone lonely, these could be life-changing acts. Books have since inspired me to do many awesome things. They turned me into a repository of worlds, characters, and experiences introduced to me through novels, and this has made me a more curious and daring person.
Picture me back then: scrawny, shy, American girl with a Pakistani face and a tragic ill-suited Princess Diana haircut (my mom was a fan). Always, always with a book in her bag. I’ve let go of the shyness, and, mercifully, the Princess Diana haircut, but the book in the bag is a constant.
Zareen joined Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in February 2011, where she focuses on commercial and literary young adult and middle grade fiction. Her current list at Books for Young Readers includes New York Times bestselling authors Hilary Duff and Tonya Hurley, as well as a fabulous new series by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian. Prior to Simon and Schuster, Zareen worked at HarperCollins Children’s Books editing bestselling novelists Lauren Conrad, Jodi Lynn Anderson, LJ Smith, and Claudia Gray. Zareen is a graduate of New York University.
To celebrate Zareen’s post, and since The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books, I am giving away this beautiful Barnes & Noble edition of The Secret Garden, because it is so very pretty (and purple!).
Zareen is ALSO generously giving away . . .
. . . a final hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls!!!
To win, simply comment below and tell us about your experience with The Secret Garden. Have you read and loved this book? How did it influence you? What are your middle grade memories?
For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.
This giveaway begins now and ends Monday, July 9 at 11:59 a.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is U.S./Canada only.
EDITED 7/23: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner . . .
Thank you to all commenters, and thanks to all who read this post. Stay tuned for more Middle Grade Memories posts and giveaways throughout the summer!
Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!
You can view previous Middle Grade Memories posts below:
- author Marissa Burt and Where the Red Fern Grows
- author Sarvenaz Tash and The Witches
- author Jay Kristoff and The Hobbit
- author Adam-Troy Castro and Dr. Dolittle
- author Greg Leitich Smith and The Enormous Egg
- librarian Rita Meade and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- author Cristin Terrill and The Baby-Sitters Club
- author Phoebe North and A Swiftly Tilting Planet
- editor Jordan Hamessley and The Egypt Game
- agent Suzie Townsend and The Westing Game
- author Lauren Billings and Howl’s Moving Castle