The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston

It is almost April, just one night to go and then a third of this year will be behind us. Where has it gone? January and February didn’t appear to be flying by, but March seems to have done just that. It doesn’t seem that long since I was turning the calender and looking forward to spring. The old saying is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, or March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. Well, the wind has certainly been doing some roaring and growling today. There’s been hailstones, driving rain and a cold north wind. Not the sort of weather for being out and about. Just the right sort of weather in fact to curl up and read a good book.

It is many many years since I first learned about ‘The Children of Green Knowe’. I remember it being read to us at primary school. I think it was autumn, and for a long while afterwards I could never look at trees in quite the same light. It was a book that stayed with me for quite some time. But I grew up and discovered other books and interests, and this remained a memory of childhood, along with looking at a very tall old poplar tree near our school with deep suspicion.

Things change and the old poplar tree, and the oatcake bakery it stood next to have both gone. Progress and development seem to involve so much destruction. The school that I once thought was so big and terrifying now seems very small, and the playground where battles and epic cup finals were fought is a small square of tarmac.

This all sounds very nostalgic, which is more a reflection of the mood I’m in at the moment, rather than this book although perhaps it has added to my current mood. This is a book that belongs to my twin brother, and I saw whilst browsing his book shelves. I’m glad he let me borrow it for a while because it has been a pleasure to read. It is possibly the most charming story about ghosts a child (or adult) could wish to read.

Some children’s books do not age well, or end up showing their age. As a child I enjoyed ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘The Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton but now reading them with my son, I feel they are dated. Not so much the language as the attitudes. As a child it was much easier to see things in black and white and accept bad characters and good characters. Now, it seems too simple and un-fair.

The Children of Green Knowe however has aged well, and I would say can be enjoyed by all ages. As a child I found it very atmospheric and it certainly caught my imagination. As an adult I appreciated the same things, perhaps being more aware of the quality of the writing, and the deftness of the plot. The story starts with a boy, Tolly, travelling by train across the fenlands of East Anglia through heavy rain and floods to go and stay with his Great Grandmother at her ancient home, that is now called Green Noah.

Tolly soon finds that he isn’t the only child at the house but unlike himself the other children were alive many years ago. He learns the history of his family and the children, his ancestors, from tales his great-grandma tells him. Unlike Enid Blyton the language in this book, whilst somewhat old-fashioned is perfect in that it helps set the scene. Tolly learns about his past, and I am learning about his past, it is only right that the language reflects the age he lived in. But the language is not condescending, the author addresses the reader in terms that both child and adult can understand.

Rather than talk too much about the plot and the writing, the best thing I feel is to write the first paragraph.

“A little boy was sitting in the corner of a railway carriage looking out at the rain, which was splashing against the windows and blotching downward in an ugly, dirty way. He was not the only person in the carriage, but the others were strangers to him. He was alone as usual. There were two women sat opposite him, a fat one and a thin one, and they talked without stopping, smacking their lips in between sentences and seeming to enjoy what they said as much as if it were something to eat. They were knitting all the time, and whenever the train stopped the click-clack of their needles was loud and clear like two clocks. It was a stopping train – more stop than go – and it had been crawling along through flat flooded country for a long time. Everywhere there was water – not sea or rivers or lakes, but just senseless flood water with the rain splashing into it. Sometimes the railway lines were covered by it, and then the train-noise was quite different, softer than a boat.”

I enjoyed reading and re-discovering this book so much that I think I might read it again before handing it back to my brother. I hope you enjoy reading it too.