Saturday, September 29, 2018

Mini Reviews: The Little Prince || The Secret Garden (I Apologize For Hating Your Childhood Favorites)












The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Genre: Middlegrade classic science fiction / fantasy
Pages: 113
Publication Date: April 1943

One day, the author reminisces, when his plane was forced down in the Sahara, a thousand miles from help, he encountered a most extraordinary small person. "If you please," said the stranger, "draw me a sheep." And thus begins the remarkable history of the little prince.

The little prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house. He owned three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. He also owned a flower, unlike any flower in all the galaxy, of great beauty and of inordinate pride. It was this pride that ruined the serenity of the little prince's world and started him on the interplanetary travels that brought him to Earth, where he learned, finally, from a fox, the secret of what is really important in life. 



Likes: The Little Prince is (mostly) a cute story about a little dude who leaves his planet and explores the galaxy. He eventually ends up on Earth and develops a friendship with a pilot who has crashed his plane in the desert. For an adult reader, this book is quick to get through. It’s a very short novel with illustrations.

As Prince travels, he discovers the absurdity of adulthood. Mostly, this book is a critique of modern society. On his journey, Prince discovers a man who makes maps but never goes anywhere, a guy who follows pointless orders and never asks why, a man who demands praise for doing nothing, and a king with no subjects. My favorite person Prince encounters is a guy who wants to own all of the stars, even though he doesn’t appreciate them and can’t do anything with them. He just wants them. Prince’s journey is a humorous allegory. And a grim portrait of adulthood.


The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.The Little Prince



Dislikes: The rose is a whiny witch and the fox needs a dictionary, but since I’m writing a book review and not a philosophy essay, I’ll skip all that.

I know that The Little Prince is a beloved childhood classic, but I didn’t like it. I disliked it for the same reasons that I disliked A Wrinkle in Time. The plot is weird, and it’s somehow both repetitive and random at the same time. Most of the plot consists of Prince asking the same questions over and over as he bounces around the universe. The moral is the story rather than being something that you learn from the story. (The main lesson: Adults should spend their time on relationships and experiences, not on possessions and work that makes them miserable. It’s a straightforward moral. Why do we need 113 pages of weirdness about it?)



The Bottom Line: Even as a kid, I didn’t enjoy moral-heavy books. I struggled to stay interested in The Little Prince as an adult. I don’t think I would have had the patience for it as a child.









The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Genre: Middlegrade classic
Pages: 331
Publication Date: 1911

The plot centers round Mary Lennox, a young English girl who returns to England from India, having suffered immense trauma by losing both her parents in a cholera epidemic. However, her memories of her parents are not pleasant, as they were a selfish, neglectful and pleasure-seeking couple. Mary is given to the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, whom she has never met. She travels to his home, Misselthwaite Manor, located in gloomy Yorkshire, a vast change from the sunny and warm climate she was used to. When she arrives, she is rude, stubborn and given to stormy temper tantrums. However, her nature undergoes a gradual transformation when she learns of the tragedies that have befallen her strict disciplinarian uncle whom she earlier feared and despised. Once when he's away from home, Mary discovers a charming walled garden which is always kept locked. The mystery deepens when she hears sounds of sobbing from somewhere within her uncle's vast mansion. The kindly servants ignore her queries or pretend they haven't heard, spiking Mary's curiosity.



Likes: For most of this book, I was completely onboard with it. The main characters are brats, but I understand why. They’re rich kids who are constantly surrounded by servants and used to having their demands met. The kids make you cringe sometimes, but I didn’t mind reading about them. They’re realistic.

After Mary’s parents and servants die from cholera, she’s sent to live with her uncle. Her uncle’s house has 100 rooms and massive gardens. Most of these places are off-limits because Uncle is a secretive dude. Since Mary doesn’t understand “No,” she gleefully starts opening doors and exploring the gardens. I enjoyed the plot. Exploring a huge, mysterious estate with no parental supervision seems like every kid’s dream. It’s a fun plot for a children’s book.

My favorite aspect of this story is that the children find happiness in small things. They get excited when their seeds grow and when birds lay eggs. The environment is important to them, and they want to take care of it. This would be a good book for modern kids to read. You don’t need YouTube to find happiness.


If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.The Secret Garden



Dislikes: Well, it’s definitely dated. The dialect will be difficult for some modern readers to decipher. The book has all the racism, sexism, and ableism you’d expect from a Western classic. It contains ideas such as “Black people aren’t human,” and “Women with bad attitudes deserve to be punched,” and “Sick, ugly people need to get healthy and beautiful before they can be loved.” The characters just accept these gems and don’t question them.

Despite the -isms, I was actually enjoying the plot . . . and then the last 50 pages happened. Ug, why?! There’s a point where the story very clearly ends. It’s over. The plot is done. The horrible children have stopped abusing the staff and malingering in the house. They’ve learned the power of prayer and positive thinking. They’re healthy and beautiful and loved. Everyone is happy. The book is finished.

Except, it’s not! For the last 50 pages, the characters become mouthpieces for the author. The fun story becomes a boring mystical/religious sermon. I realize that moralizing was all the rage in Victorian/Edwardian children’s literature, but as a modern reader, that level of authorial intrusion annoys me. It’s one of the things that make classics tedious. I can figure out the moral for myself, thank you very much. I’d trust children to figure it out for themselves, too.  



The Bottom Line: I liked the story about kids building a secret garden. When the book became a heavy-handed Sunday school class, I skimmed to the end and dropped the book in my “donations” box.








35 comments:

  1. Yes, I loved both of these books as a kid, BUT I agree with all of your criticism. I read a lot of racist crap as a kid, and was not as good at recognizing it as I was at recognizing the sexist crap. And preachiness is always off-putting. But if the author was telling me a good story, I chalked it up to their times, and just enjoyed the story.

    Also, I had quite a crush on Dickon.

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    1. I also read a lot of racist stuff that went over my head as a kid. If the plot was good, I didn’t care about anything else. I wasn’t a good reader as a kid, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand enough of Dickon’s dialect to have a crush on him.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I really enjoyed The Secret Garden as a kid, but oh boy, those messages are awful and harmful.. I don't remember these parts or the ending which was like a religious sermon as you put it (yikes, why!?) - the thing I do recall is being mesmerized by the massive estate and garden haha. I WAS EASY TO IMPRESS AS A KID, OK. Anyhow, great reviews!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

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    1. Haha, I also would have been impressed by the garden as a kid. Now that I’m an adult with too many literature degrees, it’s a lot easier for me to spot authorial intrusion and the messages that a story sends.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I wonder how I would feel reading these as an adult, because I am sure I did not pickup on the preachy nature of it back when I was younger, but it is something that drives me up a wall these days as everyone out there works their hardest to tell me what I am supposed to think. I still believe my co-blogger, Noor, would fight you about The Little Prince.

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    1. I suspect a lot of people would fight me on these. I probably would have missed the preachiness as a kid, too. Now it annoys me because I also don’t like being told what to think. I’d rather read a story and draw my own conclusions.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I can't remember if I ever actually read either of these. I totally see what you mean about thethe secret garden being so dated. It makes it hard to like older books because of stuff like that.

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    1. I appreciate classics, but some of them do make me cringe.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Your thoughts on The Secret Garden is pretty much how I feel about Little Women. It's all the moral stuff that gets so heavy-handed and pulls you out the story.

    Cait @ Click's Clan

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    1. I have Little Women sitting on my to-read shelf. I’ve been putting it off because I’ve heard that it’s heavy-handed.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I loved The Secret Garden as a kid. But I feel like if I read it now, it'd be uncomfortable at best.

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    1. It’s kind of astounding how much stuff went over my head as a kid. I probably would have liked The Secret Garden a lot more when I was younger.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. As soon as you tell kids not to go somewhere, it just makes them want to see what it is. I was like that as a kid for sure! I don't know if I read The Secret Garden as a kid but I wouldn't read the book now as I hate whiny kids!

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    1. Haha, that’s exactly what kids are like. My parents were constantly telling us not to climb the dunes in the gulch because it’s dangerous. We ignored them and climbed the dunes until my friend fell and broke her ankle.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Oh! I actually have no memory of these books, other than knowing the gist of the stories from reading them when I was younger. If I'm remembering correctly, I didn't like The Little Prince either. Great reviews!!

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  9. I was never a big fan of The Little Prince, but I loved The Secret Garden, and still do. That said, many books from that time are preachy in places (check out Louisa May Alcott's books, for example), and most contain attitudes about race and/or gender that are unacceptable today. I guess I see it as part of the history of the time, and skim past those bits. If I were reading The Secret Garden to or with a child, I would take the opportunity to discuss how attitudes and beliefs have changed, and how some of those beliefs are still around even though many people (including me) disagree with them.

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    1. I understand. I’m glad that we have classics because they’re like a snapshot of the past. Sometimes the past was ugly. Still, if I was reading The Secret Garden to a kid, I’d let them know that it’s not acceptable to behave like the characters do.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. This cracked me up! I have never read either, and I honestly have no plans to because wow they sound a mess. Like yeah, I know adulthood sucks, I don't need a freaking reminder! And talk about bumming kids out! "Hey kids! Six years old is literally as good as it's ever going to get, nighty night!" Hard pass. The Secret Garden... nope would have thrown that across the room, no doubt. I get that it was a different time, but you know, our current time might as well be 1911, so who needs it? Sorry these didn't work for you, but I loved your reviews!

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    1. Thanks! Adulthood in The Little Prince is so bleak! Adulthood is hard, but I promise that not all adults are insufferable pricks.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. Two of my favorites, although I have to admit if I had read The Little Prince as a child I would have hated it. 😊

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    1. I was a pretty stupid child, so I think The Little Prince would have gone over my head.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. These are fighting words! I've only read Le Petit Prince as a high schooler and I adored it. But of course I wasn't a child.

    Never read Secret Garden but I adore the movie!

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    1. Haha, I expect a lot of people would fight me about The Little Prince. I vaguely remember The Secret Garden movie. Maybe I should track it down and see how it compares to the book.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  13. I like Le Petit Prince for its illustrations and its simplicity. When I was younger I had a literary crush on the boy who works in the garden. My weekly update

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    1. You’re the second person who had a crush on Dickon! I didn’t realize that he was so loveable. Maybe I would have had a crush on him if I’d read the book when I was closer to his age.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  14. I haven't read either of these books but I doubt that they would really be for me. Classics and me don't tend to get along :)

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    1. I like reading classics because they helped shape modern books, but some of them are very tedious.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  15. I haven't read The Secret Garden, but I watched the movie like a million times when I was younger (double-feature with A Little Princess ... yup). I always wanted to read it buuuuut now maybe not so much, lol. I did read The Little Prince and I felt the same as you - the plot was repetitive and while it had some good moments, the whole thing kind of left me going "why??" ... Great reviews!! Might this be a series? Because I need more of you tearing apart my childhood, lol.

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    1. Haha, next year I’m going back to reading Newbery winners. I expect I’ll be tearing apart a few of those.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  16. Oh, funny. I don't remember the last 50 pages of The Secret Garden, but I do know I loved the book as a child. I don't think I ever read The Little Prince, though. Maybe someday?

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I think the moralizing would have gone over my head as a kid. I’m a lot better at spotting it now.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  17. I've read The Secret Garden a few times, but I only seem to remember the general plot. I didn't remember all the racism and religious stuff at the end. I agree, though, that it's a dated book and that can make it a chore to get through.

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    1. If I had read the book when I was younger, I probably would have missed all that stuff, too.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  18. I was not so optimistic when I read this title! I absolutely love the little prince, but I have to admit I've loved it as a teenager and not as a child. It is moral heavy and the lessons are very clear cut, but I liked the illustrations and when you don't want to think too much it's a good read. I read The Secret Garden once when I was very young from the library. I remember nothing except one scene (I believe it's this book) when the girl is on a plane and she just sits really still :P That's it. So I got the book and I intend to reread it but I don't think I'm going to like it from your review DD:

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