I wish I’d written… Julia Green chooses a brave and unusual story.

As a child, I read and loved all the books by Lucy Boston. I longed to live in an ancient house like Green Knowe, with its mysterious garden and exciting river and the children who come and go. I’ve re-read Lucy Boston’s stories and marvel at the way she wrote so powerfully about the natural world and about children: ‘to them, nothing is ordinary.’

Julia Green is the author of more than twenty novels and short stories for young people, including Carnegie-nominated To the Edge of the World and The House of Light. Her new book The Children of Swallow Fell is published by Oxford University Press.

A Stranger at Green Knowe begins not at the house but in the tropical rain forest in the Congo. ‘Imagine a tropical forest so vast…’ We experience the loving, protective family of gorillas and the wild beauty of the forest through the perspective of the baby gorilla, and so we feel acutely the terror and devastation when his parents are shot and he and his sister are captured and caged. Hanno, as he comes to be called, is exiled from his Eden forever. ‘He sat with his face pressed to the wire listening and longing, but he never heard his own language again or smelled the comfortable family aura. Such loneliness was not to be endured.’

In Part 2, Hanno is older, living in a tiny cage at London Zoo. He is visited by Ping, an orphan refugee, also an exile far from his forest home. Ping is changed forever by this encounter: ‘The world contained something so wonderful to him that everything was altered.’ Boston moves her story along at great pace, and audaciously, too – cutting to where she needs to go next without lengthy explanation. In Part 3, Ping is staying at Green Knowe for the summer, Hanno has escaped from the zoo, and they meet again, deep in the bamboo thicket in the grounds of the house. What follows is beautifully and dramatically described. Events unfold to their inevitable and tragic conclusion, but there’s hope for Ping’s future, if not for Hanno’s. This brave and unusual story was first published in 1961; it won the Carnegie Medal. And it still has huge imaginative and emotional power, enhanced by Peter Boston’s beautiful, delicate illustrations. A book like this stays with its readers forever.

A Stranger at Green Knowe by Lucy Boston, illustrated by Peter Boston, is published by Oldknow Books, 978-0952323341, £5.99 pbk.

Good Reads

Good Reads in which pupils at a school write about the books they have been enjoying, is one of the longest running and most popular Books for Keeps features. During the pandemic it has been difficult to commission young reviewers, so we are very grateful to Jon Biddle, teacher, coordinator of the national Patron of Reading initiative and an EmpathyLab advisor, for supplying these reviews, written by his daughters. Thank you too to Leah and Anna. Unsurprisingly, there’s a strong empathy focus to the reviews.


Jo Cotterill, Piccadilly Press, 978-1848126732, £6.99 pbk

Jelly is an empathetic book about a girl whose nickname is Jelly. She is a kind, thoughtful and lively person but only in secret. When she is around other people, she is unsure of herself because of her weight. Her solution is to laugh it off but as the book goes on she realises that this is not the best idea. Her mum doesn’t know that she is faking her emotions because she has her own problems, finding someone who is polite and respects her. Her mum eventually finds a boyfriend who brings out the best in her, but can he help Jelly show her true self? I thought this book was good because it dealt with the issue of self-esteem and being true to yourself. Jo Cotterill always writes books about realistic characters who face challenges in their lives that children will be able to relate to and this is one of my favourites.

Leah, aged 11

Roller Girl Victoria Jamieson, Puffin, 978-0141378992, £7.99 pbk

This book is about a determined girl called Astrid who goes to watch a roller-skating competition with her best friend. She is inspired to start skating herself and a perfect opportunity comes up, a skating camp over the summer holidays. She is desperate to go along with her best friend and books a place

without asking if her friend wants to take part. Sadly, her best friend has already decided to go to a different summer camp, along with Astrid’s worst enemy. Anyone who has had friendship issues will understand and love this brilliant graphic novel. I enjoyed it so much that I read it all in one go. It would be a great story for a child in Year Four or Five to read, especially someone who feels that they are left out of things by their friends.

Anna, aged 8

The Space We’re In Katya Balen, illus Laura Carlin, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1526601940, £10.99 hbk

The Space We’re In is the story of a ten-year-old boy called Frank. He has a brother, Max, who is autistic and finds it very difficult to talk to his family. He also struggles with being independent. His family do all they can to support him but, because he’s only five- years-old, he doesn’t really understand. The family are then hit by an almighty tragedy. This book describes their problems and how they try to overcome them. The Space We’re In is gripping to read and people will be able to relate to the emotional story this book tells and empathise with the realistic characters. I found this book unlike anything I had ever read before. I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys sad books, as well as ones that are realistic and hard-hitting. The first thing I did when I finished this wonderful book was read it again!. Leah, aged 11


Two Sides Polly Ho-Yen, illus Binny Talib, Stripes Publishing, 978-1788950626, £7.99 pbk

This book is very good because it talks about friendship issues and solving problems together. It is about two girls with very different personalities. One is bubbly and talkative, and the other is quiet and shy. One of the friends forgets something that the other one lent to her. They break friends and the shy one doesn’t make another friend but the confident one does. This story is very easy to read and I enjoyed it a lot. I like it how it has coloured pictures and talks about something important in a funny way. The important message is about not letting down your friends and forgiving them if they make a mistake. The illustrations are good because they help build a picture of what is happening in the story. I would give this nine out of ten and recommend it for someone in Year Two and Three. Anna, aged 8

Find out more about EmpathyLab

Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 17


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