Children's column: come into the garden

Nicolette Jones
Opinion - Children 27 Mar 2009

One of the many successes of the National Year of Reading, we were told , was the establishment of Reading Gardens, with over 100,000 visitors to the Reading Garden at Hampton Court Flower Show. The idea has spread to schools and Starbucks. And there are plans for 100 reading gardens elsewhere to be established through partnerships with Business in the Community in 2009. Some bookshops and libraries had cottoned on to this idea already. Much Ado Books in Alfriston in Sussex has a books cupboard in its garden, so customers can sit in the sun and read. Summertown Library in Oxford has a beautifully landscaped sculpture garden (the Turrill Garden) opened in 2000, where library users can take their borrowed books. But many of the new developments are aimed specifically at children.


The website www.readingforlife.org has splendid ideas for planning and planting a children's reading garden. But it doesn t have a suggested list of books to read there. Publishers publishing schedules, and newspapers Easter round-ups are currently full of outdoorsy, spring titles, so what books would suit?
The all-time frontrunner for reading in a garden must be Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, if only because it is likely to be the inspiration for the location itself. The Reading for Life site tells us that a Reading Garden should have a feeling of enclosure - the garden should engender a feeling of safety, and should provide privacy, shade and shelter . The model is clearly Burnett's which is itself, in the story, a metaphor for everything that reading can do: her garden is a place that nurtures and mirrors the blossoming internal lives of children. The spring plants symbolise the emotional rebirth of children (Sarah and Colin) who are mentally and physically paralysed by grief and lack of love. And all children, whether troubled or not, flourish under the influence of reading.
So what else? In its 40th anniversary year, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are (for its triumphant vegetation) and Tom's Midnight Garden, perhaps. Among new books: Elen Caldecott's How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant because saving an allotment is central to the plot. No doubt you can all think of favourite literary gardens, and Children's Books to Read in the Garden seems a suitable themed spring display for bookshops, even if they don t have reading gardens of their own.

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