The Children of Green Knowe

green-knoweIn one sense, I was really well-read as a child. I spent virtually all my time reading — had to be forced into the playground — and I roamed my library at my own sweet will. In some other ways, though, I wasn’t very well-read at all, because I had a tendency to read the same books over and over and over again. I must have read Elizabeth Enright’s books about the Melendy family easily fifty or sixty times during my childhood, for instance, and I don’t even want to think about how many times I read the Narnia books. Doing this meant that I didn’t have time — for dull pursuits like homework, of course, but also for other books I might have branched out to read. And somehow, I managed to miss some real childhood classics. I never read any of the Betsy-Tacy books, for example, and I still haven’t read any of the Indian in the Cupboard books or Sarah, Plain and Tall. And high on that list — I never read L.M. Boston’s wonderful, mysterious Green Knowe series.

The Children of Green Knowe begins with little Toseland Oldknow arriving on the train, in the dark, in the middle of floodwaters, to live with his unknown great-grandmother Oldknow at the family house, Green Noah. As soon as Tolly arrives, it is clear that there is nothing here for him to fear: he belongs at Green Noah with Granny, the gardener Boggis, the hundreds of birds in the garden… and the mysterious laughing voices he sometimes hears as he’s falling asleep at night.

As the floodwaters recede, Tolly is able to explore the house and garden, and to ask Granny to tell him more stories about his ancestors, the children who lived in the house centuries ago: Toby, who rode the magnificent horse Feste; Alexander, who played the flute; and little mischievous Linnet, their sister. As Tolly roams the grounds, encountering yew-animals and tame deer and minor mysteries, it becomes increasingly clear that the children are still at Green Knowe, and ready to welcome Tolly. Other mystical beings — the great statue of St. Christopher, and the menacing Green Noah himself — also find their place in the story.

I more than half-expected this book to be frightening. A haunted house has to be, right? But no. The dead, the living, the animal life and the plants and the house itself are all part of Green Knowe, all part of belonging to the history of the place. The descriptions are beautiful, with every detail satisfying to a child’s heart (or an adult’s, for that matter.) Despite the presence of St. Christopher and the mention of Christmas Midnight Mass, this is not a Christian book: the heart of it comes straight out of a sweet pagan mysticism that sings with a natural happiness. I was completely charmed. I wish I’d read this as a child, but I’m so glad I read it as an adult.

Can anyone tell me if the sequels are any good? I’d like to read more, but I know that sometimes series go downhill, and after such a good start, I’d hate to be disappointed…

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Classics, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Children of Green Knowe

  1. Kristen M. says:

    I’ve heard about this series twice now recently but never heard about it as a kid. I’m definitely interested!

  2. Steph says:

    I first heard about these books from Eva, over at A Striped Armchair. I haven’t read them personally, but based on her raving over there, I’d hazard a guess that not just the first book is good. I think you’d be pretty safe checking out the other ones, but you might want to visit Eva’s site to get a better sense of what she thought of some of the later books in the series.

  3. Jenny says:

    Kristen — give the first one a try. It’s a quick, sweet read, and I’m guessing anyone would love it.

    Steph — Thanks for the heads up on Eva’s review. It does look as if she liked them all! Off to the library I go…

  4. Nymeth says:

    Somehow I missed out on this completely – will amend that! Thank you for the fabulous review.

  5. Eva says:

    Hehehe-Steph is totally right about my raving. ;)

    Not all of the sequels have Tolly in them, and one of them (The River) doesn’t even have Grandma Oldknow! I think I’d rank them in this order:
    The Children
    The Treasure
    The Enemy and The Stones
    The River
    The Stranger (this one doesn’t even have ghosts…)

    But you know, that’s just my opinion: I can’t wait to hear yours. :)

  6. Jenny says:

    Nymeth — I love discovering children’s classics I missed as a child! It’s very satisfying.

    Eva — I went and read all your reviews on Steph’s recommendation! Thanks for the ranking, that helps and I appreciate it. They are lovely books, aren’t they?

  7. Super page!! hope to come back again=)

  8. Kathy says:

    Ohhhh, does Boggis row Tolly to the house in a boat through the dark of night when he first arrives? I think I read this when I was little but I only have vague memories . . . then, in this or in one of the sequels, was there a gorilla hiding in the nearby forest, or am I getting these books mixed up with others?

    • Jenny says:

      Kathy, the rowing in the boat to the house (which has been flooded) is one of the most striking scenes. But I haven’t read any of the sequels, so I can’t speak to the gorilla!

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