I fell in love with this book from the opening paragraph. Hilary McKay’s gorgeous writing captures both the power of stories to transport us and the promise that magic exists if we open our eyes to it.
“There were no curtains at the window and the room was bare, except for the sofa and Abi’s rocking horse and Abi herself, hunched over her book like a diving bird on the edge of a pool, poised between worlds.”
When we read we make connections, with our own lives and memories, with people the story may remind us of, with the settings and the characters. Instantly, with this first sentence I was transported back to my own childhood and that sensation one feels when you start reading a new book and enter the world created by the author. Others, I am sure, will recognise that moment conveyed so beautifully by Hilary McKay in the prologue to this enchanting story. As I turned the first page alongside Abi doing the same with her book these connections continued. This is a wonderful book, a story to escape into on dark evenings, a story about families with all their imperfections and difficulties but most importantly it is a story full of kind wisdom and an understanding of what matters most to people.
Abi’s mum died when she was a baby and since then she and her dad Theo have been a team aided in life by Granny Grace who dispenses love, wisdom and delicious food. When Theo meets Polly and they decide to marry Granny Grace departs on her long delayed trip to Jamaica and the rest of her family. Twelve year old Abi has not only acquired a step mum but also finds herself now the middle child between two brothers, teenager Max and six year old Louis. Theo and Polly hope that their two families can blend into a happy new one. The reader follows their attempts and the discoveries that they make along the way.
Houses feature in several classic children’s books and in a similar way to Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Children of Green Knowe it is a house that takes centre stage in this story too. The family move into a mysterious ivy clad house next to a graveyard with a lamppost outside reminiscent of that found in Narnia. It is Abi who is first aware of a strange magic in the air. Her beloved stories become more real and she finds herself literally becoming part of their make believe worlds, little Louis receives a visitor who gradually looms larger in his life and eventually sceptical Max succumbs to magic.
Beautiful writing, well rounded and believable characters, tension and humour combine in this story which is magical in the best possible way. Sometimes it is real magic that means most to children and this book is brimming with it. The magic that bonds people together, that makes a house a home and that enables stories to transform readers. As an adult I read this book with that ‘if only’ feeling you have as a child, that perhaps if you believe hard enough magic can really happen. The blurring of reality and imagination is exquisitely done and as I read I could see Iffen just as clearly as Louis does and disappeared into the story almost as completely as Abi in hers.
Hilary McKay creates such fabulous characters and displays an understanding of family life that makes these people real to the reader. Abi is a child who I understood immediately and I loved Louis so easily that as I read I wanted to crouch down and give the little chap a hug. The author’s humour and empathy are particularly apparent in the writing of Max’s struggles with his first crush and friendship issues which arrive simultaneously as he struggles to cope with a new father figure. The way in which hardworking parents have to cope with demanding careers, family life and financial isssues is handled with a reassuring understanding and it is probably helpful and comforting for children to see depictions of this in fiction.
I enjoyed this book so much that I slowed down towards the end as I did not want to say goodbye to these lovely people. There are sentences that one reads twice to savour the use of language and all that is conveyed in a few words. I was going to quote sections but frankly there were too many to choose between. A book for children but for adults too, this cast a magical spell in an unexpected but utterly delightful way. Highly recommended.
My copy was borrowed from my local library but I will be buying my own copy as I definitely want to reread this. The Time Of Green Magic was published in September 2019 by MacMillan Children’s Books and is available online or at your independent book shop which can be found here.