Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Stranger at Green Knowe

by L. M. Boston
Finished September 21, 2009

This is the book that caused me to start reading the Green Knowe series. Searching for children's books about apes (for a storytime about the letter A), I found this title in the catalog. Not wanting to read a book from the middle of a series I had never read before, I started at the beginning. The journey to this fourth book has been worth the trouble.

Ping, one of the children from the last book, returns to spend the summer with Grandmother Oldknowe. Ida is to spend the holiday with her cousins. Oskar has been adopted by a family. Only Ping is left in the refugee hostel. Feeling sorry for him, Ida writes to Mrs. Oldknowe, asking if she'd invite Ping to visit. Of course, she agrees.

The first third of the book happens before Ping's visit, however. We're introduced to Hanno, a gorilla who is captured as a baby from his home in the Congo and grows up in a zoo in London.

Ping visits the zoo for the first time with his school's class . He's very disappointed to find that
the zoo is not a place with lush greenery and an atmosphere as wild and natural as its inhabitants. He sees Hanno - his first sight of a gorilla - and feels an instant connection with the magnificent ape. Ping is devastated to see such a noble beast in a concrete jail cell. He thinks back to the concrete rooms in which he has been forced to live as a refugee. Hanno is a "displaced person" like himself. The only consolation he has is that Hanno's keeper raised the gorilla from a baby and treats him kindly. He readily shares with Ping the secrets to dealing with Hanno.

Ping arrives at Green Knowe and soon learns that Hanno has escaped from the zoo. Coincidentally, he ends up in the thicket behind the garden at Green Knowe. But Green Knowe is a magical place, so perhaps it isn't such a coincidence.

This is the only book in the series (so far) that has not had a magical element - other than the connection between Hanno and Ping.

As with Treasure at Green Knowe, L. M. Boston shows great compassion and a sense of justice. She obviously isn't enamoured of zoos - at least zoos of the 1960s, which were pretty hard on the animals. Hanno's story is heartbreaking. I wish we could have seen more interaction between him and Ping.

A lovely book.

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