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! 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.
  1. 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?

  2. 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 treasure? Or...

  3. 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.

  4. 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...

  5. 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 witch's search.

  6. 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.
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.

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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