Review by C.J. Bunce

A new print edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden is coming to bookstores next month, and its artistry and design could stand as the definitive version–a storybook that could be a new favorite for the next generation of readers.  Originally published in serial form for both adults and children in 1910, Burnett’s classic book of children forced to grow up in difficult times and the value of friendship to their growth was initially not so well-received.  Burnett would be better known for her novels Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess even years past her death, but over time The Secret Garden flourished to become a beloved favorite, frequently ranked high on British and American reading lists, including those of School Library Journal, the U.S. National Education Association, and the BBC.  The novel made its way into the public domain, and has been the subject of countless print editions, as well as plays, musicals, television features, and theatrical films.  Actors Dean Stockwell, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Honor Blackman have all found roles in various adaptations of the book.  And soon another big-screen adaptation is coming your way from StudioCanal starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Design studio MinaLima has partnered with Harper Design to release a truly beautiful version of The Secret Garden incorporating three-dimensional elements and hundreds of pieces of colorful line art and decorations.  A garden’s worth of vibrant flowers hug the footer numbers at the bottom of each page, colorful end papers adorn each new chapter, the off-white pages have an antiqued appearance, each chapter finds an old-fashioned stylized introductory letter, and pop-up images emphasize story elements.  It even includes a traditional paper doll, and cleverly folded paper gardens.  The 384-page hardcover features a gilded, textured cover, and tucked throughout the book are symbols and images found in Burnett’s sumptuous text.  The fifth in a series of children’s classics illustrated by MinaLima, including Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales, The Secret Garden is the pinnacle of these accurately self-described “lavishly illustrated” editions, finding a story that doesn’t require illustrations, but is enhanced so well by MinaLima’s application of them.  At two points in the story, letters are received via post by key characters, and instead of merely printing them in text as found in the original novel, the illustrators include two actual letters, designed as replicas, neatly folded just as you would have found real letters in the late 19th century, ready for readers to pull out and read as they move through the story.  That tactile experience will move readers young and old.

The style of artwork is suited to the story, combining British and Indian influences the young lead character Mary Lennox would have been familiar with, plus ink color choices and wallpapers similarly found in her era.  In this tale, Mary, an initially angry, “quite contrary” daughter of a British couple living in India that dies of cholera, finds herself nearly abandoned at a widowed uncle’s giant mansion back in England.  There she discovers the widower’s abandoned garden, and her relationships with three young people, an older girl and two boys, allow her to grow and move beyond her past.

MinaLima is the design studio combining the imaginations of two artists that gained notoriety for creating the entire ten-year run of graphic art and graphic props for the Harry Potter film series (discussed in The Art of Harry Potter here).  Remember all those newspapers with moving images?  British design artist Miraphora Mina and Brazilian design artist Eduardo Lima created even more for the franchise as Rowling’s wizarding world continues in the first two movies in the Fantastic Beasts series.  The studio has also provided imagery for The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd, and The Imitation Game.

A stunningly presented edition of the book, Burnett’s The Secret Garden from MinaLima and Harper Design will be the kind of keepsake storybook perfect for middle grade girls and boys and adult fans of fantasy and fairy tales.  The Secret Garden is available for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving in bookstores July 3, 2018.

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