Old Favorites: Tom’s Midnight Garden

Ah, spring. Where the smell of green is in the air, where flowers are blooming everywhere, where…what? Spring is still at least five weeks away?

Oh.

Well, let’s pretend it’s spring…or better, yet, summer! Let’s visit an English garden in the summer!  Let’s just pick up a book and visit Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce.

* * *

Tom is really not happy.  It is the summer holidays, but he’s not at home. His brother, Peter, has measles, and Tom is being shipped off to stay with his aunt and uncle in the city. Instead of the tree house he  and Peter had been planning to build in the garden at home, he has an alley full of dustbins and trash outside his door.  His friends are all back at home, having a great time, while he’s cooped up in a little apartment, with an aunt who is overly concerned with everything he does, and an uncle who doesn’t seem to understand kids at all. There are a cranky neighbors who must not be annoyed, and an elderly landlady who apparently doesn’t like kids at all.

In Tom’s eyes, everything is completely horrible. There’s nothing to do, no one to play with, and his uncle insists he get ten hours of sleep every night. Although he’s bored, Tom has no reason to be tired and he  simply cannot sleep that much. It’s completely unreasonable that he should be stuck in his room for ten hours, every night. There’s too much noise in the house to sleep at all–even the grandfather clock downstairs, which keeps perfect time but chimes odd hours, is irritating. The ticking is loud.

But one night, Tom gets out of bed. With nothing to do all day, he’s not sleepy. All he can do is lie awake and compose letters to Peter in his head while he listens to the noises of the house and the city. Then the grandfather clock strikes thirteen. Tom knows there’s no such hour! That thirteenth chime contradicts everything he knows about time. He’s going to go downstairs and figure out what is going on with that stupid clock…and prove that there is no such thing as an extra hour in the day.

When he goes downstairs, everything is very dark; the only light seems to be coming from somewhere outside. Tom opens the door, expecting to see moonlight falling across the dustbin-filled alley out there…and instead finds a lush garden with the sun just rising.  He stands and stares, taking it all in. Green grass, yew trees, a housemaid in an old fashioned costume. And in the middle of it all, he catches a glimpse of a girl around his own age. It’s too much to take in, and Tom goes back into the house, only to find it strangely changed as well. Then, as he turns around slowly, everything disappears, and Tom is left standing in front of the open door to the moon-bright alley.

What happened? Was it ghosts? Was it a dream? Did he imagine it all? It didn’t seem imaginary…and the scent of fresh turned earth and flowers still lingers in the air.  Tom decides to investigate.

He questions his aunt and uncle, even the neighbor, to no avail. No one seems to understand what he’s talking about. He watches the elderly landlady wind the grandfather clock…and remembers it striking thirteen. He can hardly wait for bedtime to come that night.

Suddenly Tom’s summer is full of surprises and adventures, and even a new friend.  His friendship with Hatty is a complicated; for one thing Tom is never sure if she will remember him from night to night, and somehow, she seems different every time he sees her.  Will he solve the mystery of the garden before the summer ends? Does he even want the summer to end? Could he end up staying in the garden…forever?

* * *

Tom’s Midnight Garden won the 1959 Carnagie Medal, awarded to an outstanding book for children and young adult readers, written in English and first published the previous year in the UK. (The UK Carnagie Medal is similar to the US Newbery Medal.) In 2007 it was selected by judges of the CILIP Carnegie Medal for children’s literature as one of the ten most important children’s novels of the past 70 years.  It’s been made into a movie and a play, and adapted by the BBC three different times for television. It’s also a great read-aloud, for anyone who might be looking for a book that’s longer and more substantial with plenty to discuss.

And yet, even though it’s considered a classic of children’s literature, I rarely see Tom’s Midnight Garden being read these days. And it should be read! It’s a wonderful book for anyone who likes fantasy or time travel stories…or even ghost stories. There’s even a mystery. It has everything!

Tom is a very likable character, and he has some very exciting adventures with Hatty…both in the garden and out of it.  Does Tom solve the mystery of the midnight garden?  At the end of the story, he does have an answer. But what is happening, and who is causing it is a question the reader will have to settle in his or her own mind.

Read this book! You’ll be very happy you did.

::Kelly::

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