The Children of Green Knowe and The River at Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston

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The Children of Green Knowe and The River at Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Two classic books for children in a newly-published paperback collection. Adventure, nostalgia, history and fantasy in a likeable format, perhaps best to be read aloud to older children.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 364 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Faber Classics
ISBN: 9780571303472

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I vaguely remember the Green Knowe books 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. 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.

This recently re-published volume contains two of these classic books: 'The Children of Green Knowe', which is the first in the series, and 'The River at Green Knowe', the third.

The first of these is about a small boy called Toseland - Tolly, as he is later known - who goes to stay with his great-grandmother, Mrs Oldknow while his parents are abroad. It seems shocking, just sixty years later, to think of a child of only seven being in boarding school, and then travelling on a train by himself to be met, after dark, by someone he did not know. I’m not sure why he is supposed to be so young, since in many respects he behaves far more like a child of ten or eleven.

Green Knowe has ghosts of previous generations the family who lived there; confusingly, family names are passed down the generations, so that Tolly meets another Toseland (known as Toby) as well as a Linnett, which is also his great-grandmother’s name. It’s a slightly confusing device and I did rather lose track of who was whom at times.

Still, the stories are interesting; Mrs Oldknow tells Tolly about people and events from the past, and he gradually becomes friendly with the ghosts he meets, as well as their animals. It’s all written in a matter-of-fact style, with an overall feeling of security and peace; 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 of the books included in this volume takes place when two elderly ladies rent Green Knowe for the summer, and invite three children of around ten or eleven to stay with them. The ladies are delightful caricatures: an eccentric archaeologist, and a brilliant cook. 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.

I would give this four stars for myself, but then I like the nostalgia and can appreciate the books from an adult perspective. However these are intended as children’s books, probably for around age eight to twelve, and I suspect the audience in the 21st century is quite limited. I am a little unsure which of my young friends would enjoy the old-fashioned and sometimes slow-moving narrative, with a mixture of everyday life, unsupervised adventure of the kind that would be frowned upon today, and unexpected fantasy. Those who like realism and adventure usually want their stories to be believable; those who prefer fantasy worlds are often uninterested in day-to-day life and explorations.

Having said that, it’s the kind of book I might have read aloud to my sons when they were in that age-group despite their being fluent readers; there’s a lot to think about and discuss, and a slower pace can sometimes work well when reading aloud. So, three and a half stars, and a cautious recommendation for eclectic and fluent readers, or for a family read-aloud.

Many thanks to the publishers for sending this to The Bookbag.

Children who like classic stories mixing adventure with fantasy might enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis or perhaps Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

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Buy The Children of Green Knowe and The River at Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Children of Green Knowe and The River at Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston at Amazon.com.

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