Top 100 Children’s Novels #90: The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
It was magical when I read it, and it still is. And the house is real – you can visit it. – Marianne Minnich
This is an old fashioned mystery, with magical overtones. The language is lyrical and the story is almost dreamlike in parts with reality and fantasy (or two realities) overlapping in an intriguing way. As I understand it, the author moved to an old house in England and this inspired her series of Greene Knowe children’s books (this was the first). The characters of Tolly, Linnet and Alexander have stayed with me all these years. This is a classic fantasy deserving of wider readership. – Christine Kelly
Looks like somebody is moving up in the world! Last time I conducted this poll Green Knowe was rock bottom at #97. Now it has climbed a couple places and gazes serenely out at the world. Fascinating!
As Publishers Weekly describes the plot: “Young Toseland (Tolly for short) isn’t sure what to expect when he is sent to spend a holiday with his Great-grandmother Oldknow in her huge castle of a house in England. He arrives in the middle of a flood, and feels as if he is climbing aboard Noah’s Ark, which sets the stage for this unusual adventure. Soon Granny is telling Tolly about Toby and the other children (and animals) who sometimes come to the house, ‘when they want to.’ Listeners and Tolly learn that Toby and his full-of-energy siblings Linnet and Alexander are ghosts; they died during the Great Plague. Magic, mystery and fun will bring listeners along for an entertaining ride, even if they may not always be sure where the ghosts begin and real-life leaves off.”
The story behind the book is also of note. According to Janet Crane Barley in Children’s Literature, “Lucy Boston bought, Hemingford Grey, a venerable, time worn manor house near Cambridge, England in 1935. She lovingly restored the house, now thought to be the oldest, continuously inhabited home in England, for her home, and used it as the evocative setting for her books in the ‘Green Knowe Chronicles.’ After 20 years of living there, she began writing her first book, the now classic Children of Green Knowe, set very firmly in and around her wonderful old home.”
Should one wish to visit the Manor where Ms. Boston wrote the books, it is possible. Writing for The Human Flower Project, one John Levett says, “It was at the Manor that Lucy Boston wrote her first novel The Children of Green Knowe and found a publisher for it in 1954 when she was in her 60s; five other books set in Green Knowe followed. She died in 1990 at the age of ninety-eight. The Manor is the place to be for a child of any age.” He goes on to explain how to get there (it’s in England so good luck, Yanks) and what you will find in the gardens. The website for The Manor is here. And to be precise about it, Ms. Boston was 62 when she wrote this book. This places the author in sharp contrast to book #91 on this list.
In 2009 the book was adapted into a movie called From Time to Time and starred folks like Maggie Smith, Dominic West (could he have gotten any further from his role on The Wire?), and Timothy Spall (not playing a villain, for once). Looks like they took more than one book in the series, though I’m not sure.
- You can read some of the book here if you’re curious.
- Dr. Who fans may be interested in this connection to the book.
Covers for this book have included:
But the best, I think, is probably the latest. No offense to Brett Helquist, of course.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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