The Green Knowe Books
Lucy M. Boston
Green Knowe is a house – or more of an estate really – on a river. A great-grandmother
lives there, and Tolly, the youngest of the family that built Green Knowe
many hundreds of years ago, and boys and girls who drift in and out of their time through
a few hundred years. Sometimes they bring their tame animals and pets, and sometimes
there is very strange company.
You don't need to read the books in order, really, though it might be more fun that
way. The third book, The River at Green Knowe, is all about adventures on the river that
runs by Green Knowe. The children explore in a canoe and make a map – it's rather like
Secret Water in that way – and the places and people they find are quite extraordinary!
Amazon.com has all the books in softcover at about $7 apiece, and the unabridged
audiobooks (CD and download), read by Simon Knowles, are lovely too. The print books
are illustrated by Boston's son Peter. Maybe the stories started out being written for him,
the way Swallows and Amazons started out being for the Altounyan children.
Note for parents: children who read the Ransome books by themselves (or partly
read to and partly on their own) are probably ready for these, and they are very good to
read aloud to children who aren't quite ready to handle the English richness and
complexities of the stories. The subtexts of the books after the first are very dark in
places, and the satire of the academic and her fluffy friend in River is sharp and (like the
hints about the Lady of Treasure) a bit racy. Some characters (and sometimes animals
and things) are evil and bad in complex and all too believable ways – plenty to hold your
interest as you read them aloud, and if you still reread the Ransome books you most
likely will have to read Boston for yourself too. The vignettes of villagers and the hired
help are very reminiscent of Ransome's vivid pictures of farm people and miners and
eelers and charcoal burners, and the satires upon the academic are – to anyone who's
been one – rib-splitting.
- The Children of Green Knowe
Tolly comes to Green Knowe in a rowboat – the river has come over its banks all
the way to the house! It's his first time in the house that will be his one day. His
great-grandmother Oldknow tells him stories... or are they stories... they seem to
come alive sometimes... have the children in the picture slipped through time to
Tolly, or has he slipped into their time?
- The Treasure of Green Knowe
Granny is running out of money to keep Green Knowe in repair – indeed, to keep
Green Knowe. Some very bad happenings a few hundred years ago left a hoard of
coins and jewels ... somewhere... did the fire that took the addition burn up the
- The River at Green Knowe
Granny and Tolly are off voyaging, and an archaeologist and her friend are
renting the house for the summer, and write for two refugee children (from the
wars of that time – they could as well be from wars of this time). They get them,
Ping and Oscar and Ida, not a refugee but a niece to take care of them all, and turn
the three loose on the river. Their exploring finds the most extraordinary and
possibly, sometimes, magical, places and people.
- A Stranger at Green Knowe
And such a stranger! It's Ping's story, and it starts with Ping making a friend in
the London Zoo...
- An Enemy at Green Knowe
She's looking for something... something hidden at Green Knowe... and you know
that anyone named Melanie Powers is up to no good! Tolly and Ping's wits are
tested at every turn as plagues and destruction are set upon Green Knowe in the
- The Stones of Green Knowe
The story of the building of the oldest part of the house, more than 800 years ago
– but as always at Green Knowe, time folds and drifts upon itself (we find out
why... sort of...), and all the children of the house – Tolly and Ping, Toby,
Alexander and Linnet, Susan and Jacob, – come into the story too.
There are two fairly well-known books for younger children, too: Castle of Yew
and The Sea Egg, and two (at least?) memoirs by Lucy Maria Boston, which tell of
herself and her affair with the house she wrote of as Green Knowe: Perverse and Foolish
and Memory in a House. Out of print but worth looking for.
Miss Boston lived nearly a hundred years and made the most of them.
Review by Molly McGinnis, May, 2009
This article is ©2009 by Molly McGinnis,
and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.
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