Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lucy Boston's Green Knowe Novels

Do you adore children's books and always wish you could find a new, delicious series? I do, and I have. A few years ago I found an old movie on Youtube: The Children of Green Knowe. I loved watching it -- magical, delightful, sweet, innocent, with a fabulous old house/castle and twisty stairs. My kinda place.

Then I found a movie on Netflix called From Time to Time, also taken from the Green Knowe series. It stars so many British favorites! Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Timothy Spall (aka Peter Pettigrew), Harriet Walter (aka Fanny Dashwood). Be sure to watch it too. Set in WWII, it's beautifully done.

Finally I decided it was time to read the books and discover who this imaginative writer was -- Lucy Boston. I turned to my favorite cheap book procurement site: Abebooks. For about $14, I purchased The Children of Green Knowe, The Chimneys of Green Knowe, An Enemy at Green Knowe, and The Stones of Green Knowe (including shipping). I researched about the various books to ensure I ordered the best. Two others in the series didn't sound quite so good as these.
Now I want this copy, rather than the one I ordered,
 because this one is illustrated by her son, Peter.
I'm nearly done with the first one, The Children of Green Knowe. Boston is a skilled writer with an inventive mind and a lovely turn of phrase. I'll share with you an assortment of passages that show her skill:

"Tolly followed, and found himself in a room rather like his bedroom but much larger, smelling of hay and sawdust, and rich with a soft, musty kind of darkness. There was only one small round window covered with cobwebs, so that the light that came through was dove-gray."

She has an enchanted sense of place and communicates it well to the reader. When a writer describes light as "dove-gray," I know I'm reading something special.

"Great flakes of snow blotted out all the distant view. The bushes in the garden were upholstered with fat snow cushions. The yew trees by the house were like huge tattered snow umbrellas. The branches were weighed down nearly to the ground and shielded it from snow."

"Fat snow cushions"! I love it!

"The lantern hanging from a nail on the wall only lit a corner of the stable corridor. Outside, the rising moon was hidden from the earth by mist and trees, but high-sailing clouds caught its light and with their silver-gilt brightness reflected a glimmer through the stable windows that was enough for a thief's trained eyes."

In the middle of describing a stable, and a character's actions and thoughts, Boston takes the time to help us understand exactly how the light is falling, and why. And she does it beautifully. It's so important to give our children beautiful writing, beautiful language.

"If she listened for the outside noises she could hear the water going through the water gates and over the weir. There was no flood, but a deep strong current. She could hear occasionally the owls and the desolate herons. Once she heard a fox bark. Inside her room perhaps one of the birds shifted and chirped softly in its sleep. She could hear Orlando breathing into his own fur. She could hear the candle flame fluttering like a little flag. It was all so very quiet."

There's so much to admire in this passage! Boston always appeals strongly to the senses and pulls her young readers into the experience. Each of the sounds described above is "spot-on" and precise; that precision is her skill. Then, she'll give you something quite new and delightful like a the muffled sound of a candle flame resembling a fluttering flag. Perfect.

Here's another water description:

"The stone giant strode across the lawns with his bare feet and soon came to the river. At the edge there was thin, loose ice that shivered like a windowpane as he stepped in. The water rushed round his legs and the reflection of the moon was torn to wet ribbons."

Ah! I admit the first time I read that last line I caught my breath in wonder and had to read it again. (Then I read it aloud to my husband and daughter because that's what we do around here.) Can you see it? The ribbons of the sliced moon in the water? Isn't it exact and perfect? She's so good.

One more:

"Mrs. Oldknow's fears were justified. It did freeze that night. The air sang with frost as Toseland lay in bed, and the birds roosted in his hospitable branches. The owls hooted outside. Their sound seemed to echo from a glassy, frost-hard sky. Tolly could literally hear how wide the meadows were."

Boston takes it to a new level. Frost is usually something you see, but instead you hear it. The width of a meadow is usually something you see, but instead Tolly can hear its width as he lies in bed, by listening to the nigh echos of the owls against the ice. Some writers are in a hurry to get the plot to you, rather like rushing the pot roast onto the platter and into the dining room without carving and garnishing it. Boston is ever careful, precise, electric, rich in her comparisons. I'll be sad when I'm done with her writing. I hope I've tempted you to dip in!


  1. You've certainly tempted me! And I enjoyed reading this post even more because your piano was playing in the background! (I'm also tempted to take piano lessons.) I loved the excerpts! Thanks! :)

  2. I started watching the YouTube video this afternoon! Thank you for the tip :-)

  3. Wow. Going to watch the film and going to buy the book! My kind of reading, too ---- great minds continue to think alike!


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