Don’t Judge a Book by its Title

Two nights ago my daughter asked: “Mom, what did you like to read when you were a kid?”

“’A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,’ ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ ‘Whitley Strieber’s Communion,’ ‘The Secret Garden,’” I spat out the titles so fast, like I had been waiting all my long and lonely mom years for just such a question.

And I have been!

My daughter tsk’d and shook her short-sheared head at that last title: “The Secret Garden.” It’s her auto-reply to everything I say or suggest that reinforces stereotypes of 21st-century American girlhood. But I say these things by accident or misunderstanding, I tell you.

‘Girl Talk’ 

Review these examples from recent conversation.

Me: “Want to wear your sweat pants with a draw-string waist for Easter Service?”

Daughter: Tsk.

Me: “What about a black scoop-neck tee-shirt for the spring-theme recital at school?” Daughter: Tsk.

Me: “Want me to pack your lunch in a white paper bag with glitter on it, or a brown paper bag that has been through three lunches and was squished into your backpack’s moldy micro-compartment for three weeks?”

Daughter: “White is for girls! Brown-bag it!”

Gardens? Secrets? Gross!

So it was with my list of go-to books, especially that last one. “The Secret Garden.” Gardens and secrets? Please, you might as well have called it “Tea Time & Glitter Tampons: An Afternoon at the Mall with Barbie.” That’s how appealing a book about gardens and secrets is to my daughter.

But if you have read “The Secret Garden,” you know there’s more to it than this Edwardian manor-moored child Mary Lenox, rose bushes and colonial gossip.


Don’t mind the glare. My kids are my photography staff.

“Don’t judge a book by it’s title,” I tell my daughter. “It’s about forgotten children, a boy who talks to animals, snakes in the nursery. And it all starts in India!”

“Snakes in the nursery” did pique her interest, as did the lost child and my assurance that the boy who talks to animals has no unicorns in his care. A unicorn on the moors would have been a true credibility blow for this book, in my daughter’s eyes.


Our last bookshelf. Each of the kids has one, too.

By the time we wrap this literary pep-talk it’s time for stories and bed. I walk to the dining-room bookshelf that has been painstakingly culled and downsized from two large shelves of books into one shelf containing only our “best of” volumes. Something that never happens to me happens right then: I find the book exactly where I thought I had placed it one year or two ago. It’s a showy blue and gold hardcover with gold-edged pages and a satin-ribbon bookmark that was gifted to me by my godmother when I was eight or nine. I think she bought it at Gimbel’s in Packard Plaza – talk about a flashback. I plan to always keep it.

This night, I planned to read it.

“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle…”


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katie
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 22:00:45

    Love love love. No wonder I love you so much – we were addicted to the same books as children. Did she like it?


    • Chutney Challenged
      Apr 27, 2013 @ 23:50:35

      You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out. Should be up in a month 😉 love you, too. And Gary Soto, the esteemed author and poet. Forgot to add “Living Up the Street” to that list. Must do!


  2. Katie
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:17:15

    Did you see a movie version is coming out of Tiger Eyes? You, me, Judy Blume at a theater near us?


  3. Sharifah
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 22:57:11

    Secret Garden is one of my all time favorites! That book inspired me to take creative writing when I was 10. I need to revisit it w u and amaya! Xo


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