I definitely remember that this story was a written work of fantasy, meant for children, and was fairly short, so probably a short story, not a novel. I read it approximately 5-10 years ago.

The plot involved children, a teacher, and a magical garden. The teacher discovered that people could turn into animals in the garden, so she had the practice of her students doing so in that location.

What sticks out in my mind are the things the teacher made her students do so that they would be safe. For instance...

  • Her students had to learn how to keep track of time and set mental timers exactly, even without a clock.

  • The transformed people would have most of the animal's mind, but with enough human parts to be able to remember and process their experience after. Retaining too much humanity while in animal form would be dangerous.

  • The teacher also made sure that students could not turn into the first choice animal they most wanted to be, because they ran the risk of being unable to return to being human.

I remember that the teacher had to specially deal with two children because one turned into an animal that was a predator of the other. Also, one girl did transform into the bird she most wanted to, and the others had to convince her to return to human form.

I've been trying to find this story for a while, but I couldn't find it by searching for the plot on Google.

Edit: I believe the name of the girl who became a bird had "Mary" in it, although I am not 100% sure.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site. You have a good start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details, that would be great. Every little bit helps us.
    – amflare
    Dec 30, 2017 at 5:14
  • Thanks, @amflare! I was reading the guide as I wrote this question, actually. I know I wasn't perfect, as this is my first time doing this, so I tried to just write everything I could remember down. I asked this question now because, for some reason, it was irritating me greatly that I couldn't find the story. Dec 30, 2017 at 5:27
  • Is this one of the Animorphs books? A friend read some and told me about them, this sounds familiar.
    – Hebekiah
    Dec 30, 2017 at 17:56
  • Thanks, @Hebekiah, for your efforts, but I know that this is not an Animorphs book (although I read some of those as well). The Animorphs series was more science fiction than fantasy, and involved a technological device rather than a garden for changing form, and it was an alien mentor rather than the human teacher of the story I'm looking for who introduced the children. It's still good that you tried, now this comment will narrow the search for future possible answerers. Dec 30, 2017 at 19:11
  • This sounds like something by E. Nesbit or Edward Eager, but doesn't seem to match either of their bibliographies. Nesbit does have a book titled The Wonderful Garden, but the description I found was nothing like this. Jan 3, 2018 at 6:59

1 Answer 1


Going Through the Gate by Janet S. Anderson

It has been suggested on similarly sounding librarything.com search.

The Publishers Weekly review:

In this emotionally resonant first novel, sixth-grade graduation from a one-room schoolhouse is a mystical rite and the subject of local legend. Five children are about to literally ""go through the gate,"" their small town's term for graduation. All five--including thoughtful Becky, cynical Tim and self-sacrificing Mary Margaret--have been given particular animals to study by their antiquated and charismatic teacher. Going through the gate at the bottom of the school yard, the children enter an enchanted glen where they transform briefly into their chosen animals and return to their human forms with a newfound understanding of themselves and the world. But the experience involves serious risks, especially for those who aren't happy in their human skins. Anderson (The Key into Winter) uses a spare style that emphasizes the physical sensations of each child, such as this example of a boy becoming a frog: ""What he was wasn't a tadpole anymore. He had legs now, and lungs, he could finally breathe. Now that he had all his parts, he could finally breathe."" Although the near-suicide of saintly Mary Margaret verges on the maudlin, there is a tangible thrill to the atmosphere of the mysterious town, where cats are never allowed to hunt and honey is spread on trees for the ants. A moving fantasy that brilliantly evokes the fear and exhilaration of growing up. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)

  • Thanks! This does seem like the story I was looking for. However, I haven't read the book in a long time. Also, I thought it was a short story, not a novel. (With that said, the rest of the description is so similar to what I remember that I probably either misremembered the length or read only an excerpt.) I'll see if I can get the book and read the story before accepting this answer. Feb 28, 2018 at 2:34
  • Okay, I didn't have an opportunity to get the book. However, the description does sound so similar I'm almost 100% percent sure it's the answer. I'm going to accept this answer now so I don't leave it hanging forever. Apr 11, 2018 at 0:41

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