Woman reunited with childhood book from 20 years ago

A visit to a museum proved serendipitous for a pair of sisters who discovered their very own book on the museum shop shelves.

Zoe Andrews found her very own copy of The Secret Garden for sale on the shelves of the Museum of English Rural Life shop.

The MERL, who went viral recently with an 18th-century schoolboy’s doodles of a chicken in trousers, had acquired the Ladybird Children’s Classics edition from a charity shop in Wallingford to add to its collection of vintage and second-hand books.

Zoe picked up the book in the MERL’s shop and was amazed to discover her sister’s name written in code in the front page.

Joe Vaughan, The MERL’s digital editor, tweeted about the discovery.

“Today, the past sent something back, in our museum, in our strange house of time, like a letter returned to sender. It’s not every day that you pick up a book, open it, and, in the inside cover, find your sister’s name, in hieroglyphics … the ones you wrote when you were kids.”

Zoe Andrews couldn’t remember any details about the secret language her and her sister had written on the book. “I had a grid on a sheet of paper with a ‘key’ as to what symbols meant what. This is going back many years, probably 1993/94.”

MERL director Kate Arnold-Forster said:

“One of the most unexpected yet fascinating aspects of libraries is discovering books that bear traces of their readers’ lives, moving us to speculate about how they were read and enjoyed. That it’s The Secret Garden – a novel that has survived generations and provided a magical escape for so many readers – makes this story all the more wonderful.”

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