HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Tom’s Midnight Garden
Author: A. Philippa Pearce
Illustrator: Susan Einzig
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, reissued in 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1909621206 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 190962120X (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0064404457 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0064404455 (Paperback)
Language level: 2 (almost 3)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Pearce, A. Philippa. Tom’s Midnight Garden (published in 1958 by Oxford University Press; republished in the United States by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, PA). Tom Long lives with his parents and younger brother Peter. While the Longs’ town garden was rather small, Tom was looking forward to spending his vacation playing in the grass patch, rough patch by the back fence, and large apple tree. However, Peter comes down with the measles, and Tom has to go into quarantine by staying with his stuffy Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan Kitson who have a city flat in a boring old house owned by mean Mrs. Bartholomew with no garden at all. The night after his arrival, he hears the old grandfather clock in the hall strike thirteen. Thinking it odd, Tom goes to investigate and decides to see what is outside the back door. To his amazement, he finds a lovely garden in which he plays for a long time.
However, the next morning, when Tom looks out, the garden is gone. All he sees is an alley, lot fences, and cars. What is going on? Yet, when the clock strikes thirteen that night, Tom goes out to play in the garden again. Over time, he finds that there are other people in the garden, such as Mrs. Melbourne; her three sons, Hubert, James, and Edgar; their cousin named Hatty who is an orphan being cared for by the widow of her husband’s brother; a maid named Susan; and a gardener named Abel. But it appears that only Hatty can see Tom. What is this place? And who are these people? When the date draws near for Tom to return home, he forms a plan to remain in the garden forever. Will it work? Ann Philippa Pearce (1920-2006) was a British author of children’s books, whose second and most famous work is this time-slip fantasy novel Tom’s Midnight Garden, which won the 1958 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognizing the year’s outstanding children’s book by a British subject.
There is very little objectionable in the story. The “h” word is used a couple of times, not for actual cursing but in a way that we were always taught not to talk. The plot moves along a little slowly at some times, but it has more action at others, and there is always an element of suspense with a slight air of mystery that will hold the reader’s interest. Although I had never heard of the book before, it is considered a classic of English children’s literature, and I am quite glad that I discovered it at a used book sale. The Guardian called it “a rare, moving story, beautifully written and true in every way that matters.” The author was a runner-up four more times for the Carnegie Medal. Her other books include Mrs. Cockle’s Cat, which received the Kate Greenaway Medal, and The Battle of Bubble and Squeak, winner of the Whitbread Medal.