Tuesday 19 November 2013

Classic Children's/YA: KM Lockwood on the Green Knowe series by Lucy M Boston

Green Knowe is one of those series I keep meaning to get round to reading but never do - I've clearly been missing a treat, to judge by this fabulous piece from KM Lockwood!

There are six books in the series and they are all still available to buy online – an edition of two of the stories was released at the beginning of October 2013. There was a BBC TV series based on the first book The Children of Green Knowe, as well as a radio play, and a film based on The Chimneys of Green Knowe (‘From Time to Time’). Some of these are around too.

The books are all quite distinct and different: you don’t need to read them in any particular order. What brings them together and enchants me is the house – Green Knowe of the titles. You can visit it –the author Lucy Boston lived at The Manor, Hemingford Grey and rescued it from near-dereliction.

It is her love of the place that shines through –but that wouldn’t be enough for a child reader. What she does best is bringing history to life through an intoxicating blend of reality, adventure and magic. There are ghosts and witches and lonely children – and finally, resolution to the problems set up in each story. There are stories within stories, rich description within the action and a sensual appreciation of time-hallowed things, of artefacts with resonance.

They are beautifully written – though they may challenge a less-than-fluent reader. I love the character of the great-grandmother Mrs Oldknow, who occurs in all the books. Like L. M. Boston herself, she never patronises any of the children.

My favourite is The Children of Green Knowe. There are parts I still cannot read without laughing or crying or feeling scared after far too many years. A close second is The Chimneys of Green Knowe (sometimes known as The Treasure of Green Knowe) and then An Enemy at Green Knowe. I should warn you that this has a truly terrifying evil character in it: not for the timid.

These books will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fantasy written with deep love for time and place. They are equally suitable for boys or girls from around eight – especially the more goth-minded, outsider types, I would suggest. Contemporary children might enjoy the 50s/60s style in its own right – and then come to love Green Knowe as a character itself. I think the best editions are illustrated by her son, Peter Boston, for whom she wrote the stories originally.

The other three in the series are The River at Green Knowe, A Stranger at Green Knowe and the Stones of Green Knowe. L. M. Boston also wrote The Castle of Yew, The Guardians of the House, The Fossil Snake and The Sea Egg – they would be described as magical realism nowadays. There are also books and plays for adults.

K. M Lockwood writes for children and young adults, and reads books for Serendipity Reviews.

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