Tom's Midnight Garden cover art
Childrens | Classics

Tom’s Midnight Garden | Philippa Pearce

I have a confession to make, I’m not sure I had heard of this book until recently. During the recent lockdowns my daughter was tasked with reading this book as part of her schools home learning. We agreed to read it together and read the required one to three chapters per week.

After starting the book it was evident that it was written quite a while ago, the language feels old and my daughter found it quite difficult to read and understand. On some occasions I even had to explain terms to her (she’s a pre-teen). As it turns out this book was originally printed in 1958.

We got about a third of the way into the story before the return to school. Despite the occasional requests form me to continue reading the book, progress came to a stop for many weeks. Eventually I threatened to read it alone and was informed this would not do, it would not do at all. Like the doting father I am I held off despite wanting to finish it off (I already have dozens of half read books lying around).

Finally, I caved, I started reading it. Over the course of a weekend I went from 30% completion to 50% (yes, I read it on a Kindle). I proudly told my daughter that I had read several chapters and was indeed enjoying the book. ‘That’s ok Daddy,’ I was told, ‘we finished that at school ages ago!’

Obviously I was enraged and stormed off (I didn’t) to continue reading, after making her promise not to spoil anything. With a clear road ahead of me I ploughed through the book.

I found the first part of the book fairly dull. Tom has to leave the comfort of his home to ensure he does not catch measles from his younger brother Peter. He is sent to stay with his aunt Gwen and uncle Alan. Upon arrival Tom finds himself bored but is confined to his aunt and uncles flat in case he is already infected with measles.

Lying in bed at night he notices that the clock in the entrance to the converted flats does not keep time correctly, in fact, the clock seems to chime a thirteenth hour. Tom gets out of bed, creeps down stairs to investigate and then finds himself walking out of the back door into a sunlight garden.

Over time Tom espies other children in the garden and attempts to make friends, somewhat unsuccessfully. It soon becomes apparent that they cannot see or hear him. Until, that is, he finds and meets Hatty. The two of them become fast friends and enjoy several (mis)adventures together.

By the time I’d reached the end of the book I was finding the way it was written to have a real charm to it. I found the ending to be a little predictable but ultimately very satisfying. My daughter and I had a great conversation about the culmination. The only thing I didn’t like was that there wasn’t more of it.

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