Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ghosts and Ballet and Mini Reviews, Oh My! (Some read-alouds for the 7-12 age range)

The Children of Green Knowe (L.M. Boston). The story of young Tolly who goes to live with his kindly Great-Grandmother OldKnowe whom he has never met, in an old manor in the English countryside and finds it benevolently haunted by the spirits of three children (Tolly's ancestors) who died during the Plague in the 1600's. Lonely Tolly loves exploring the grounds with their whimsical topiaries, and learning about the history of the house and his ancestors and the three children, Toby, Alexander and Linnet.
Originally published in 1955, this book has a gentle, old-fashioned feel, with a delicious bit of shiver to it. It somewhat reminds me, writing-wise, of Frances Hodgson Burnett's books.
It's suitable for good readers from ages seven and up, it would also make a good read aloud (if your children are okay with the idea of ghosts. Mine are not, even though the ghosts in the story are benevolent.) It is the first of a series.

Ballet Shoes (Noel Streatfeild). Great Uncle Matthew is passionate about collecting fossils and other natural items, and fills his large house with the things he's collected on his travels, including the three abandoned baby girls -each under different circumstances- he brings/sends home on three separate occasions to his niece, Sylvia. When GUM (Great Uncle Matthew) disappears and money gets tight, Sylvia takes in a motley assortment of boarders who all teach the girls something, which allows the three very different but devoted "sisters" to come into their own. 
Written in 1936, it was really quite a progressive book for it's time, when you think about it, in terms of its treatment of women and careers. I like that it shows, in a rather vague way, that every person has something to teach us.
I'm remembering the scene in the movie You've Got Mail, where Meg Ryan's character kind of gushes over this book and the other "Shoe" books by Noel Streatfeild. I'm sorry to say I can't gush, but it was a good story, with solid writing and interesting characters. It just didn't grab me. Maybe because the problems the family faces are easily and conveniently solved with no real character growth on anyone's part. Although it's not one I'm personally anxious to read aloud to my girls, it would make an good read aloud, especially if you have little dancers in your family.
This is the first time I've read this children's classic, and I wonder how I'd have reacted if I'd read it at the right age. Maybe then I would have gushed, but I doubt it. Even then I liked a little more dramatic tension in my stories. (I wish the publisher had put in more pictures by Diane Goode in this version I read. It was too slim on the illustrations.)


  1. I recently bought the Green Knowle book, but haven't read it yet and Ballet Shoes is a classic favorite, but I admit to liking Theater Shoes even more!

  2. N. *loved* Green Knowe. The later books in the series look weirder and we haven't read them yet. I haven't read any of the Shoes books since childhood and I am overdue to reread them!

  3. SC -- We listened to Theatre Shoes on CD in our car travels this week. It does have more tension in it than Ballet Shoes.

    FH - I enjoyed Children, but I'm not planning on reading any more of the series just yet.

  4. Does Children of Green Knowe make a good read aloud? It was too slow and descriptive for us; I loved reading it as a kid but it was hard to get through with my (then) seven year old.

    We had better luck with Stranger in Green Knowe, the gorilla one. I love them all, though. Stranger has no ghosts, if your kids want to try that one.

    Did you know the Shoes books have different titles in England? Only in America did they get shoehorned into conformity. I like them, though; the tiny kid-sized dramas are big enough for me.

  5. River at Greene Knowe was always my favorite. I didn't like some of the magic in the other books. My favorite "shoes" book so far is Dancing Shoes, with Circus Shoes as a close second. I think one of the things that appealed to me was the detail in the way the children in the books lived as dancers, etc. The author really goes into how the laws worked and such, making them seem more real.

  6. We listened to one if the Shoe books (or part of it, at least) on a trip a few years ago. The girls didn't love it then, but they might now that they're older. Thanks for the reminder!

    Please link this up to RAT this week! :-)

  7. I enjoyed both of these as a kid but haven't gotten around to reading them to my guys yet. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Beth, I think it does make a good read aloud- almost anything does for the right age and interest group.

    I had heaard that before I read them. I wish they'd kept the original titles; it would have been less confusing. Before I discovered that little tidbit, I had thought it was a series, all featuring the same characters. But of course then I learned that they're NOT related, except through the American publishing "shoe" hype. Very confusing.

  9. Welcome back, Rae!

    I agree with your point about the Shoe series; very interesting, especially if one loves dancing.

  10. Amy, I think these books work best for the 10 to 12 age. My girls haven't stayed interested in the CDs of the books we've borrowed. And they're not interesting enough for me to read aloud. But that's just me.

  11. Alice, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. You're welcome for the reminder.