Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Middle Grade Classics: The Children of Green Knowe--Audio Book review

The Children of Green Knowe

Title: The Children of Green Knowe
Author: L.M. Boston. Read by Simon Vance
Publisher: Listen & Live Audio, 2006 (originally published 1954).

Publisher's Summary:
L.M. Boston's thrilling and chilling tales of Green Knowe, a haunted manor deep in an overgrown garden in the English countryside, have been entertaining readers for half a century. There are three children: Toby, who rides the majestic horse Feste; his mischievous little sister, Linnet; and their brother, Alexander, who plays the flute. The children warmly welcome Tolly to Green Knowe ... even though they've been dead for centuries. But that's how everything is at Green Knowe. The ancient manor hides as many stories as it does dusty old rooms. And the master of the house is great-grandmother Oldknow, whose storytelling mixes present and past with the oldest magic in the world. 

My Review:
This book has been on my radar screen for ages, and I finally took a listen. It is definitely a book from an older time, which suits me just fine (since so much of the children's lit I grew up with comes from the 50s and earlier). It is a type of story that stretches me and makes me just that bit uncomfortable: a story where the reader is never quite sure if it's really a fantasy, or if it's all about the power of Tolly's imagination (spurred on my great-grandmother Oldknow, unless she, too, is seeing children who are several centuries dead). I don't know if other people (including children) are more willing to just accept the ambiguity, but for me, this kind of thing always makes me want to know: are the children real or not? Or, to put it another way, is it fantasy or an ode to the imagination?

The answer to that question doesn't really seem to matter--it's a great story either way, and I think it's my weakness to want a solid answer one way or the other! It's also a story that could be creepy (the summary, above, makes it sound as though it might be), but in fact it's not. Tolly and old Mrs. Oldknow both accept the ancient children with no fear, and though there is a moment of very real fear (and real-feeling danger) from something that could only be called magical, that doesn't seem to affect either Tolly's or my feeling about the children.

In some ways the book feels a bit piece-meal, as the stories of the past are interspersed with the unfolding tale of Tolly's discoveries about the manor and the children. But it serves to integrate the stories of the historical children with the live child, and I think works well (it could be seen as a sort of time travel, as indeed the Library of Congress subject headings imply: "Juvenile fiction Space and time").

Narrator Simon Vance does an excellent job, voicing the characters distinctly and conveying the magical tone of the story admirably.

I can recommend the story and the audio both. The writing level is a little higher than kids might be used to for middle-grade, but there is nothing essentially difficult about it. American children may be a little lost at first in some language and historical references, but most will take it in stride. The audio book would make great family vacation listening.

Full Disclosure: I checked The Children of Green Knowe out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. I've not heard of this one before. It's amazing how many good books there are to read!

    1. I'm surprised--this one's set in England, and I assume by an English author! I never encountered them as a kid, but assumed they simply hadn't made it out here yet. I think the book is right up your alley, with the sort of time wrinkle in it.


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