From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5–8—Jane Eyre meets Lemony Snicket in this smart, surprising satire of a 19th-century English governess story. A witty omniscient narrator speaks directly to modern readers and follows 15-year-old Penelope, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, to British country manor Ashton Place, where conniving Lord Fredrick has discovered three wild children apparently raised by wolves while hunting in his vast forest property. To Lord Fredrick, who's named them Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible, the children are trophies and property ("Finder's keepers, what?"); to young Lady Constance they're savage nuisances who howl, chase squirrels, and gnaw on shoes. Enter Penelope Lumley, charged with taming them in time for a Christmas party, and bolstered by her top-notch classical education and an endless supply of platitudes from Agatha Swanburne. She also comes armed with a cherished book of poetry and her favorite fiction series, "Giddy-Yap, Rainbow!" There are stock characters, and there are mysteries. Most of all, without taking itself too seriously, there is commentary on writing itself, the dangers and the benefits of relying on books for moral courage, and the perils of drawing false expectations of the world from literature. Penelope shows growth, confronting issues of social class and expectation versus reality, and eventually realizing her own capacity for insight. Humorous antics and a climactic cliff-hanger ending will keep children turning pages and clamoring for the next volume, while more sophisticated readers will take away much more. Frequent plate-sized illustrations add wit and period flair.—Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA
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*Starred Review* Three unfortunate orphans. A series of unexplained events. A droll offstage narrator. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Well, yes and no. Although Lemony Snicket’s illustrious crew does come to mind right from the start of this book, there are differences. For instance, these children were raised by wolves. Moreover, they’re not even the protagonists of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. That pride of place goes to Miss Penelope Lumley, their 15-year-old governess, recently graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. Penny, who understands commitment, takes in stride her first introduction to her charges, with their near-naked bodies, matted hair, and indecipherable growling. Soon she has them listening to poetry and playing about with Latin, but things are not well at Ashton Place. How Lord Fredrick came upon these children is unclear; who wants them out of Ashton Place means danger; and whether there’s someone living behind the staircase wall is perplexing. Then there are the questions about Penny herself. It would have been lovely if all or any of this was cleared up. It’s not, so the book serves as more of an appetizer than a main course. But how hearty and delicious it is. Smartly written with a middle-grade audience in mind, this is both fun and funny and sprinkled with dollops of wisdom (thank you, Agatha Swanburne). How will it all turn out? Appetites whetted. Grades 4-6. --Ilene Cooper
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