Tom’s Midnight Garden is written by Philippa Pearce (random note: if the author’s dead, should that be “was written”? I like the present tense, but I’ve always wondered if it’s actually correct to use it that way…). It was published in 1958 by HarperCollins. More information about Pearce can be found here.
“Tom was a cross and resentful boy when he was sent to stay with his uncle and aunt because his brother, Peter, had caught the measles. As soon as he joined his relatives in their small apartment, he knew he would be bored and lonely. He would miss Peter as well as the garden at home where they used to play. Now he had no friends his own age, and, instead of a garden to explore, there was only a paved yard and a row of garbage cans outside the back door.
When the time came for Tom to go home, however, he did everything he could to prolong his visit. For he had made a strange and wonderful discovery—a discovery that he could share with no one, except Peter. And Peter believed it all, and even, for one brief moment, came to share in Tom’s fantastic midnight adventure.”
What I Liked:
Another classic children’s book that I read as a kid. Seeing the cover was like meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time and are excited to get to know again.
I love the fact that Pearce doesn’t dumb down the material or waste time mincing words. Tom’s Midnight Garden has quite a complicated plot and mechanic, and it’s handled wonderfully. It’s hard to believe, after reading it, that you just read about one boy’s adventures in a garden, and that was the entire book, because so much is packed in that you feel like you’re getting so much more (I actually thought, around chapter 5 or 6, “Is this whole book about Tom’s garden adventures? Because that sounds a little boring.” I promptly forgot about that in the next chapter because I was so immersed). It’s a coming-of-age story, except it really isn’t, but it is about growing up—but not Tom. It’s about life-long friendship, and a boy’s time-traveling (time-slipping?) adventures in a garden. Seriously, Pearce makes gardens seem like the best places to be and to play.
I love the fact that the premise of the time-slipping is partially based on Revelation. I love the references to Biblical verses and stories and the inclusion of people like Abel that is so few and far between in today’s lit (and when it is included, it is usually mocked). I wondered while reading why Abel could see Tom, since the revelation at the end shows exactly how Tom managed to get into the garden in the first place. Since it was all Hatty, how could Abel see him? Maybe it was because Abel was the type of person he was.
What I Didn’t Like:
Nothing! Well, actually, I felt Tom was a little annoying in places, mainly because I thought he was a bit dense and uncaring at times.
Recommended Age Range: 10+ (only because I don’t usually go lower than age 10; but most of the time 10+ also means 8+)
Genre: Fantasy (sort of), Realistic, Children’s
Tom opened the door wide and let in the moonlight. It flooded in, as bright as daylight—the white daylight that comes before the full rising of the sun. The illumination was perfect, but Tom did not at once turn to see what it showed him of the clock-face. Instead he took a step forward onto the doorstep. He was staring, at first in surprise, then with indignation, at what he saw outside. That they should have deceived him—lied to him—like this! They had said, ‘It’s not worth your while going out at the back, Tom.’ So carelessly they had described it: ‘A sort of backyard, very poky, with rubbish bins. Really, there’s nothing to see.’
Nothing…Only this: a great lawn where flower-beds bloomed; a towering fir-tree, and thick, beetle-browed yews that humped their shapes down two sides of the lawn; on the third side, to the right, a greenhouse almost the size of a real house; from each corner of the lawn, a path that twisted away to some other depths of garden, with other trees.
He jumped to his feet and shouted: ‘I’m not a ghost!’
‘Don’t be silly, Tom,’ Hatty said. ‘You forget that I saw you go right through the orchard door when it was shut.’
‘That proves what I say!’ said Tom. ‘I’m not a ghost, but the orchard door is, and that was why I could go through it. The door’s a ghost, and the garden’s a ghost; and so are you, too!’
“Indeed I’m not; you are!’
Tom’s Midnight Garden is not only a classic children’s story, but also a classic “time story.” Time-travel stories are some of my favorites, and this one is done so well. Somehow Pearce makes the story of a boy playing in a garden exciting, heartwarming, at times heartbreaking, and most of all memorable. These sorts of books are ones that every child needs to read.
You can buy this book here: Tom’s Midnight Garden