The Children of Green Knowe and The Rivers of Green Knowe (by Lucy M Boston)

I vaguely remember the ‘Green Knowe’ books by Lucy M Boston from my childhood. They were an unusual mix of adventure and fantasy with some history thrown in, written in the middle of the last century. Apparently there are six books in the series, all based in a large house called ‘Green Noah’ or ‘Green Knowe’, based on the author’s own home.

However I might never have thought of them again - they did not make a huge impression on me - but for the fact that we watched and enjoyed the DVD of 'From Time to Time', an older children's film, which was based on one of the Green Knowe series. So when I spoted this recently re-published volume on the Bookbag site, containing two of the series, I offered to read and review it.

The first book is about a small boy called Tolly who goes to stay with his great-grandmother. Her house, Green Knowe, has ghosts of previous generations the family who lived there. The encounters are quite matter-of-fact, and Tolly learns more about them from Mrs Oldknow. Tolly has not had a happy life before arriving at Green Knowe, and gradually discovers a sanctuary and a friend, despite the enormous age difference between himself and his great-grandmother.

The second book is about two elderly ladies who rent Green Knowe for the summer, and invite three children of around ten or eleven to stay with them. The children - two of them “displaced” refugees - are given free reign to do what they like, so they spend their days in a canoe exploring the nearby river and creating a map of the places and people they find.

This is primarily an adventure story that flows along gently, and is very readable; the theme, again, is of growing friendships and a sense of peace in the old house amidst the explorations and discoveries. The unexpected fantasy thread is more obvious in this - there’s a friendly giant who’s afraid of clowns, magical winged horses, and a long-haired hermit who has vanished from civilisation.

It’s the kind of book I might have read aloud to my sons when they were around eight to twelve, which I guess was the target audience for these books. There’s a lot to think about and discuss, and a slower pace can sometimes work well when reading aloud. Eclectic and fluent readers in that age range might also enjoy it, although the juxtaposition of adventure, history and fantasy might be a bit daunting to those who prefer a clearer genre.

Recommended, on the whole.

You can also read my longer review of this Green Knowe collection on the Bookbag site.

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