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The Willoughbys Hardcover – March 31, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 118 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Grade 4–7—Lois Lowry's hilarious novel (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) is a parody of "old-fashioned" children's books and features the requisite uncaring and self-centered parents, orphans, nanny, and the like. Timothy, the oldest of the Willoughby children, makes all the decisions and the youngest, Jane, just wants to be more assertive. Twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, the middle children, are so alike that their parents can't tell them apart even if they bothered to try. When the youngsters find a beastly baby on their doorstep, they leave it at a rich neighbor's house to get rid of it. The melancholy candy maker tycoon who lives there adopts the baby and his life becomes happy after years of grieving over the death of his wife and son in an avalanche in Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Willoughby children concoct a plot to get rid of their insufferable parents and turn themselves into orphans by sending them on a dangerous trip. The nanny who comes to take care of them turns out to be just what they need to bring out the best in their personalities. The two stories intertwine when the children and the nanny must find a new place to live and the long-lost son of the tycoon makes his way home. A lengthy and humorous glossary at the end defines old-fashioned words in the story (lugubrious, affable, etc.) with examples and hints for proper use. Arte Johnson does a wonderful job of narrating all the characters' diverse voices, enhancing the comedic elements of the tale. This is a clever parody on classics such as James and the Giant Peach and Pollyanna with wonderfully imperfect orphans and memorable characters. Teresa Wittmann, Westgate Elementary School, Edmonds, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 790L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: Kentucky Bluegrass Awards 2010, Grades 4-8
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; First Edition edition (March 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618979743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618979745
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #765,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lois Lowry is known for her versatility and invention as a writer. She was born in Hawaii and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. After several years at Brown University, she turned to her family and to writing. She is the author of more than thirty books for young adults, including the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. She has received countless honors, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader.s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award. She received Newbery Medals for two of her novels, NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER. Her first novel, A SUMMER TO DIE, was awarded the International Reading Association.s Children.s Book Award. Ms. Lowry now divides her time between Cambridge and an 1840s farmhouse in Maine. To learn more about Lois Lowry, see her website at www.loislowry.com

author interview
A CONVERSATION WITH LOIS LOWRY ABOUT THE GIVER

Q. When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

A. I cannot remember ever not wanting to be a writer.

Q. What inspired you to write The Giver?

A. Kids always ask what inspired me to write a particular book or how did I get an idea for a particular book, and often it's very easy to answer that because books like the Anastasia books come from a specific thing; some little event triggers an idea. But a book like The Giver is a much more complicated book, and therefore it comes from much more complicated places--and many of them are probably things that I don't even recognize myself anymore, if I ever did. So it's not an easy question to answer.

I will say that the whole concept of memory is one that interests me a great deal. I'm not sure why that is, but I've always been fascinated by the thought of what memory is and what it does and how it works and what we learn from it. And so I think probably that interest of my own and that particular subject was the origin, one of many, of The Giver.

Q. How did you decide what Jonas should take on his journey?

A. Why does Jonas take what he does on his journey? He doesn't have much time when he sets out. He originally plans to make the trip farther along in time, and he plans to prepare for it better. But then, because of circumstances, he has to set out in a very hasty fashion. So what he chooses is out of necessity. He takes food because he needs to survive. He takes the bicycle because he needs to hurry and the bike is faster than legs. And he takes the baby because he is going out to create a future. And babies always represent the future in the same way children represent the future to adults. And so Jonas takes the baby so the baby's life will be saved, but he takes the baby also in order to begin again with a new life.

Q. When you wrote the ending, were you afraid some readers would want more details or did you want to leave the ending open to individual interpretation?

A. Many kids want a more specific ending to The Giver. Some write, or ask me when they see me, to spell it out exactly. And I don't do that. And the reason is because The Giver is many things to many different people. People bring to it their own complicated beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all of that. So I don't want to put my own feelings into it, my own beliefs, and ruin that for people who create their own endings in their minds.

Q. Is it an optimistic ending? Does Jonas survive?

A. I will say that I find it an optimistic ending. How could it not be an optimistic ending, a happy ending, when that house is there with its lights on and music is playing? So I'm always kind of surprised and disappointed when some people tell me that they think the boy and the baby just die. I don't think they die. What form their new life takes is something I like people to figure out for themselves. And each person will give it a different ending. I think they're out there somewhere and I think that their life has changed and their life is happy, and I would like to think that's true for the people they left behind as well.

Q. In what way is your book Gathering Blue a companion to The Giver?

A. Gathering Blue postulates a world of the future, as The Giver does. I simply created a different kind of world, one that had regressed instead of leaping forward technologically as the world of The Giver has. It was fascinating to explore the savagery of such a world. I began to feel that maybe it coexisted with Jonas's world . . . and that therefore Jonas could be a part of it in a tangential way. So there is a reference to a boy with light eyes at the end of Gathering Blue. He can be Jonas or not, as you wish.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#22 in Books > Teens
#22 in Books > Teens

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ever pick up a book by a beloved author and find that you have to keep remembering that they wrote the book in your hands? I sure have. Sometimes a writer likes to do something a little different. To push the envelope, if you will. To write something fun and weird just for the hell of it. How often does this happen, I wonder? Will Katherine Paterson ever indulge in a superhero story involving aliens? Will E.L. Konigsburg someday pen a tale about a girl detective in the Amazon? And will Lois Lowry ever write a story that turns on its head all those pseudo-nostalgic works of children's literature that are coming out these days? Well, check off question number three (though my fingers are still crossed for numbers one and two) because from out of a clear blue sky, without any warning, comes a Lois Lowry book like nothing you've ever seen before. It's odd. It's sly. It's a smart little package that will take some thought on the readers' part. I liked it, but it's going to be a hard one to slot into a nice neat category.

As in all good old-fashioned stories, this one involves the four Willoughby children. There is Tim, the oldest, who is very bossy. Jane is the youngest and has a hard time sticking up for herself. And then there are the twins A and B. The children are essentially good kids, but their parents are the worst sorts. Negligent and wasteful, they concoct a plan to leave on vacation and sell their house while they're gone (hopefully ridding themselves of the children in the meantime). To the young Willoughbys' aid comes a nanny of remarkable talents, a rich but sad benefactor, and a host of odd characters. In the end a happy medium is reached and everyone is happy, though perhaps not in the way you might expect.
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Format: Hardcover
Lois Lowry, winner of two Newbery medals, is not only one of the most beloved modern authors of children's fiction, but also one of the most versatile. She's done comedy (the ANASTASIA KRUPNIK series), drama (A SUMMER TO DIE), historical fiction (NUMBER THE STARS), and even dystopian fantasy (THE GIVER). In her latest book, THE WILLOUGHBYS, she proves her mastery at yet another genre: parody.

The object of parody here is old-fashioned children's books. Accordingly, the titular Willoughbys are "an old-fashioned family," and constantly refer to themselves as such. The Willoughby children are Timothy, the bossy oldest child; indistinguishable twins who are both named Barnaby (referred to as "A" and "B"); and the overlooked youngest child, Jane.

"Shouldn't we be orphans?" Timothy asks one day. While they're not, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, unbeknownst to them, are about to abandon their children in a plot inspired by HANSEL AND GRETEL. But the Willoughby children are too busy doing all the things that an old-fashioned family should do to care very much. All the elements of old-fashioned children's literature are included in the plot. Abandoned baby in a basket? Check. Mysterious nanny? Check. Reclusive tycoon living in squalor? Check. Really bad fake German? Well...that might be a new one.

It's impressive how effectively Lowry pokes fun at literary clichés so widespread that most of us have never even thought about them. It had never occurred to me how prevalent some of the elements of classic children's literature are until I read THE WILLOUGHBYS, but once it did, I wondered why I'd never read a similar parody. Lowry gets plenty of jokes in while still keeping the plot moving, and the result is a fast, funny read.
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Format: Hardcover
"Their mother, frowning, opened the door at the end of the long hall. She emerged from the kitchen. 'Whatever is that noise?' she asked. 'I am trying to remember the ingredients for meat loaf and I cannot hear myself think.'
"'Oh, someone has left a beastly baby on our front steps,' Tim told her.
"'My goodness, we don't want a baby!' their mother said, coming forward to take a look. 'I don't like the feel of this at all.'
"'I'd like to keep it,' Jane said in a small voice. 'I think it's cute.'
"'No, it's not cute,' Barnaby A said, looking down at it.
"'Not cute at all,' Barnaby B agreed.
"'It has curls,' Jane pointed out.
"Their mother peered at the baby and then reached toward the basket of beige knitting that she kept on a hall table. She removed a small pair of gold-plated scissors and snipped them open and closed several times, thoughtfully. Then she leaned over the basket and used the scissors.
"'Now it doesn't have curls,' she pointed out, and put the scissors away.
"Jane stared at the baby. Suddenly it stopped crying and stared back at her with wide eyes. 'Oh dear, it isn't cute without curls,' Jane said. 'I guess I don't want it anymore.'"

At the conclusion of THE WILLOUGHBYS, author Lois Lowry provides an annotated bibliography of thirteen "books of the past that are heavy on piteous but appealing orphans, ill-tempered and stingy relatives, magnanimous benefactors, and transformations wrought by winsome children." These thirteen books possess an average publication date of 1913.
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