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- ISBN-13: 9780618979745
- ISBN-10: 0618979743
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
- Publish Date: March 2008
- Page Count: 174
- Reading Level: Ages 6-9
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 57.
- Review Date: 2008-02-04
- Reviewer: Staff
SignatureReviewed by Lemony SnicketLois Lowry, who casts her noble and enviable shadow wide across the landscape of children's literature, from fantasy to realism, here turns her quick, sly gaze to parody, a word which in this case means “a short novel mocking the conventions of old-fashioned children's books stuffed with orphans, nannies and long-lost heirs.” These clichés are ripe if familiar targets, but Ms. Lowry knocks off these barrel-dwelling fish with admirable aplomb in The Willoughbys, in which two wicked parents cannot wait to rid themselves of their four precocious children, and vice versa, and vice versa versa, and so on. The nanny adds a spoonful of sugar and a neighboring candy magnate a side order of Dahl, if you follow me, as the book's lightning pace traipses through the hallmarks of classic orphan literature helpfully listed in the bibliography, from the baby on the doorstep to the tardy yet timely arrival of a crucial piece of correspondence.The characters, too, find these tropes familiar—“What would good old-fashioned people do in this situation?” one asks—as does the omniscient, woolgathery narrator, who begins with “Once upon a time” and announces an epilogue with “Oh, what is there to say at the happy conclusion of an old-fashioned story?” This critic even vaguely recognizes the stratagem of a glossary, in which the more toothsome words are defined unreliably and digressively. (He cannot put his finger on it, at least not in public.) Never you mind. The novel does make a few gambits for anachronistic musings (“Oh goodness, do we have to walk them into a dark forest? I don't have the right shoes for that”) and even wry commentary (“That is how we billionaires exist,” says the man who is not Willy Wonka. “We profit on the misfortune of others”) but mostly the book plays us for laughs, closer to the Brothers Zucker than the Brothers Grimm, and by my count the hits (mock German dialogue, e.g., “It makesch me vant to womit”) far outnumber the misses (an infant named Baby Ruth, oy).There are those who will find that this novel pales in comparison to Ms. Lowry's more straight-faced efforts, such as The Giver. Such people are invited to take tea with the Bobbsey Twins. Ms. Lowry and I will be across town downing something stronger mixed by Anastasia Krupnik, whom one suspects of sneaking sips of Ms. Lowry's bewitching brew. Tchin-tchin!Lemony Snicket is the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Goodbye (and good riddance)
"What if this were a story in a book with a well-worn maroon leather binding? What would good old-fashioned people do in this situation?" This is the question posed by Nanny, the caretaker to four children in Lois Lowry's latest book, The Willoughbys.
It's a wonderful, laugh-out-loud-funny spoof of old-fashioned children's books that are full of noble, heroic children, evil adults and many tragic turns. In this case, the evil adults are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, who "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." They grow so annoyed with their offspring that they hire a nanny, take a lengthy sea voyage, and put their house up for sale while they're away.
Meanwhile, the Willoughby children have found an abandoned baby on their doorstep. After their mother refuses to care for it, they leave the baby at the mansion of a sad recluse, Mr. Melanoff, whose wife and son have been missing for years in an avalanche in Switzerland. Of course, many grand adventures and plot twists ensue in the course of this easy-to-read, fast-paced book.
Nanny and the four children end up getting along famously, and all hope that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby are eaten by crocodiles during their travels. The children are a charming, fun brood, prone to bickering, of course, and reminiscent of many other literary clans, including the four children in the Narnia books.
Newbery Medal-winning author Lowry, who contributed her own black-and-white line drawings to the book, is one of the best children's writers working today, truly amazing in her depth and versatility. She is known for serious books such as The Giver and Number the Stars, as well as for more light-hearted tales such as Gooney Bird Greene and, now, The Willoughbys.
The rip-roaring adventures of the Willoughbys would make a wonderful read-aloud for your own old-fashioned clan, with loads of fun and laughs on each and every page.
Alice Cary keeps her clan together in Groton, Massachusetts.