Author: Sherry Weaver Smith
Illustrated: Rebecca Thornburgh
Published: Pauline Books
Age Range: 7 – 12
Quite simply – I LOVED THIS BOOK. What a delightfully written and crafted story. This is one of two books in the Pauline series “Friends of the Saints”. In this book, Saint Therese of Lisieux is fifteen years old and about to enter the Carmelite order of nuns. She is friends with our main character, Charlotte, who is ten years old.
Do you want to read beautiful descriptions of nature, and regard the world around with childlike delight? Then read this book. The main setting is a French spring countryside in 1888. The language used brings this romantically beautiful garden setting to life. For example, our heroine Charlotte begins her adventure by searching for flowers “the colour of dawn” and sets off while “pale yellow blossoms on tress looked down like eyes at her.” With such glorious language I was swept away into Charlotte’s enchanted and enchanting world.
The story is driven by an unravelling mystery but also the increasingly high stakes at hand for each of the characters. Along the way the children become the protectors of the hidden garden. Their journey throughout the book allows them to find faith and courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition. Truly this is such a nicely crafted book that eventually reaches a satisfying conclusion for all.
With the help of a young Saint Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower) Charlotte searches the flowers and watches the animals for her clues. Charlotte learns that a garden needs all types of flowers to be colourful. Saint Therese’s lessons are subtly placed throughout the story, allowing Charlotte and her friends to find them along the way.
It is Spring in France, 1888, and girl readers will enjoy how Charlotte and her friends are concerned with their long dresses snagging in the garden or finding bird feathers to decorate their bonnets. The girls are reminded to be more ‘ladylike’ in a world, of rigid class divisions – of impressive wealth and impossible poverty. The story is brought to life with references to carriages and horses, lords of the land, servants and maids.
The main theme in the book is about how the children discover the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Symbolically, each fruit tree they find provides a lesson – about gentleness, joy, love and patience. Under the spiritual guidance of a young St Therese of Lisieux, the children must find their own way, and work through the challenges presented to them.
Right now, this is a book that is sorely needed, sewing messages of gentleness and joy in our sometimes harsh and cheerless world. The book itself is beautifully presented with Illustrations of flowers at the commencement of each chapter; and with sketches throughout that are charming and contribute to the overall graceful ‘feel’ of the book. The story will appeal to girls, although boys will relate to Olivier who is energetic, acrobatic and fearless. If you are looking for a more traditional book – a gentle book with an interesting and engaging mystery, then buy this one. It is a must for the romantically minded and for lovers of nature. In a technology free world follow the children as they discover and save their own place in the garden.
This book will find plenty of readers if you put it in your classroom library or pop it on your family bookshelf. Catholic in its orientation and setting, you cannot go wrong with Search for the Hidden Garden. And why not also buy Sherry Weaver Smith’s other book in the series The Wolf and The Shield, whose fearless young character introduces children to the story of Saint Patrick.
Teachers and Homeschool parents will love the fact that there are discussion ideas included at the back of this book. There are also historical notes about Saint Therese of Lisieux included. To make this little gem of a book even more useful, there is a glossary and explanation of French words and pronunciation at the beginning. Honestly, all the hard work is done!
But here are some more ideas and extensions for you to use:
Hands on activity/ Life Learning:
- Take a walk in a field or garden and find as many different flowers as you can. Draw them or take photographs.
- Make a class/family collage.
- Which is your favourite flower and why?
- Can you find the botanical name of your favourite flower?
- Discuss how it takes all different sorts of flowers to make a garden. It also takes all sorts of children to make up a classroom of children/family.
The Four Virtues in this book:
- When do you feel joyful?
- When do you feel loving?
- When do I need to be patient?
- When do I need to be gentle?
Discuss in small groups and write down your answers.
Write a letter to Saint Therese of Lisieux when she was 15 years old and preparing to become a nun. How can you encourage and support her as she leaves her family and friends? Write a prayer for her. Ask her to pray for you.
I quite like these folding sticks for older kids. You can have all of the fruits of the holy spirit or just the four in the book: gentleness, joy, love and patience.