Who was your favourite childhood author?

As an adult reader I don’t think I could identify any one particular author as my favourite but that wasn’t the case when I was young. I had a couple of years when the Enid Blyton shelf in the public library was my preferred starting place for book choices. But eventually that waned and my all time best childhood author took over.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

My two favourite childhood books were and remain The Secret Garden and The Little Princess both by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox is sent to Misselthwaite Manor on the Moors in Yorkshire to live with her uncle after she is tragically orphaned. Everyone says she is the most disagreeable child they’ve ever met. It’s true, too.

Image from WikimediaCommons Public domain

Mary is pale, spoilt and quite contrary but she is also very lonely. One day she hears about a garden in the grounds of the Manor that has been kept locked and hidden for years. When Mary finds the key, she discovers the most magical place anyone could imagine…

Image from WikimediaCommons Public domain

My own copy of The Secret Garden was a Puffin paperback published around 1959. I read the book several times over the years and eventually passed it on to my youngest sister when she became old enough to enjoy it. I know she read it several times too and I guess it probably fell to bits in the end.

Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett

(24 November 1849 – 29 October 1924)

Frances was born in Cheetham, England. After her father died in 1852, the impoverished family emigrated to the United States in 1865 and settled near Knoxville, Tennessee. Frances started to write to help earn money for the family. She published stories for magazines from the age of 19. In 1870 her mother died, and in 1872 Frances married Swan Burnett who was a doctor. The Burnetts lived for two years in Paris, where their two sons were born, and then they returned to the United States. Frances began to write novels and Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in 1886. This made her a popular writer of children’s fiction, although her romantic adult novels written in the 1890s were popular too.

Frances enjoyed socializing and lived a lavish lifestyle. Beginning in the 1880s, she began to travel to England frequently and bought a home there. It was here that she wrote The Secret Garden. Her oldest son, Lionel, died of tuberculosis in 1890, which caused a return of the depression sh’d struggled with for much of her life. She divorced Swan Burnett in 1898, married Stephen Townsend in 1900, and divorced Townsend in 1902. A few years later Frances settled in Nassau County, Long Island, where she died in 1924 and is buried in Roslyn Cemetery.

I loved The Little Princess even more than The Secret Garden.

Published in 1905, A Little Princess is an expanded version of Burnett’s 1888 short story entitled Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s, which was first serialized in the St. Nicholas Magazine from 1887 to 1888.

Initially doted on by a wealthy father, Sarah Crewe leads a pampered life and is regarded highly by everyone who meets her, earning the nickname princess.

Unfortunately, Sarah’s fortunes quickly change when her father dies suddenly, after his latest mining venture fails. Now a penniless orphan Sarah is forced to live in the attic at the girls’ school she attends and she becomes the servant of the cruel headmistress, Miss Minchin.

Sarah remains positive, bolstered by friends, her imagination and her own kindness throughout her ordeals, until a mysterious friend begins to offer her assistance and may hold the promise to a better life.

In the late 1950s / early 1960s I had my own Puffin paperback copy of The Little Princess as well as The Secret Garden. Apart from the illustration on the book cover my copy of each book had no further illustrations. These illustrations from The Little Princess are on WikiCommons. They were published for the 1917 edition and the illustrator was Ethel Franklin Betts (1877 – 1959), a well known magazine and book illustrator from Pennsylvania.

The header image at the start of this post is a portrait of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Courtesy of WikiCommons as well.

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