Monday, January 2, 2012

The Children of Green Knowe

L.M. Boston 1954

I've decided to start off the New Year by posting one of my favorite children's chapter books.  I've posted about L.M. Boston before.  She started a series of books about Green Knowe- an ancient house full of stories and magic and history.  This is the first one, where we meet Tolly who has come to live with his great-grandmother.

Tolly is given the attic bedroom under the roof.  There was a low table, a chest of drawers and lots of smooth, polished, empty floor.  At one side there was a beautiful old rocking-horse- not a 'safety' rocking horse hanging on iron swings from a centre shaft, but a horse whose legs were stretched to full gallop, fixed to long rockers so that it could, if you rode it violently, both rear and kick.

Tolly asks, "Are there sometimes other children here?"
Mrs. Oldknow looked at him as if she would like to know everything about him before she answered.
"Yes," she said, "sometimes."
"Who are they?"
"You'll see when they come, if they come."

It's a hard story to describe.  Part ghost story, part historical fiction.  Tolly's grandmother tells him about the children who used to live in the house- jumping to the past with stories about his 17th century ancestors.  And magic or Tolly's imagination make them come alive.  It's mystical and mysterious and beautifully written.  In one story the three Oldknow ancestors, Toby, Alexander, and Linnet, visit a great cathedral.  It's my favorite scene:

When Alexander was separated by the length of the building from the others, who were just going out by the west door, he heard the final syllable of Toby's voice slipping in a whisper down the wall from the roof at the east end, where he stood himself.  It was queer to think of it travelling silently like a butterfly across the immense length of the honeycombed vaulting, to fold its wings and drop there in a half-breath of sound to his ear.

Alexander stayed on, making no sound that could remind them that he was left behind.  How could they go so soon?  But he was glad to be undisturbed.  The verger had gone, and no one else had as yet come in.  He stood alone in a magic world.  The candles waved in the air that was as much in movement as if in a forest.  Every now and then a spindle of wax breaking off a guttering candle fell into the brass holder with a bell-like note that seemed to go up and up and be received into Heaven.  Alexander held his breath and listened.  There was no sound except a low droning of wind passing along the distant vaulting, the kind of sound that is in a shell.

He had a sudden great desire to sing, to send his voice away up there and hear what nestling echoes it would brush off the roof, how it would be rounded and coloured as it came back.  Standing by the choir-stalls he sang what first came into his head, part of a new song that his mother was teaching him.  He tossed his notes up, like a juggler tossing balls, with careless pleasure.  He could feel the building round him alive and trembling with sound.

I call, I call, I call, (he sang)
Gabriel!  Gabriel!  Gabriel!

He stopped to listen.  It was as if the notes went up like rocket stars, hovered a second and burst into sparklets.  The shivered echo multiplied itself by thousands.  One would have thought every stone in the building stirred and murmured.  He tried it again, louder.

Gabriel!  Gabriel!  Gabriel!

He could almost imagine the Archangel must hear, might come.

Tolly and his grandmother's story continues with an old gypsy curse and an ominous Yew tree called Old Noah and more tales about Tolly's grandfather and his ancestors.  We have several more Green Knowe books, but I think this one is the best.


  1. I'm not familiar with this book, the writing is very poetic.

  2. I had never heard of it before either but just picked it up on a whim at the used bookstore. It turned out to be a real treasure! I love her writing style and my oldest daughter did too.

  3. One of my favorites book series also, along with Lucy Bostons, one shot The Sea egg.

  4. I found this one + 2 (Treasure of...& Enemy at...) at a garage sale last summer and this first one, at least, is on my list of books to read this year. Thanks for the review!

  5. Stephanie, I hope you enjoy it. This is our favorite of the series.