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The Willoughbys by [Lowry, Lois]
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The Willoughbys Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Length: 178 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Age Level: 6 - 9
Grade Level: 1 - 4
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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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 10640 KB
  • Print Length: 178 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (March 31, 2008)
  • Publication Date: March 31, 2008
  • Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,622 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 9, 2008
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: Paperback Verified Purchase
While this book did have an interesting take on the typical themes of children's literature, (ie orphaned, disasters ensue, odd creatures and so forth)it wasn't really clicking for me. It seemed a bit like something Roald Dahl would have produced but without the edgy, whimsical nature. Something about the book made me rather dread picking it back up, luckily since it's a children's book it only took me a few brief sittings to read it. I suppose I'd say, that it had an air of darkness, that made it somewhat distasteful, at least to me. In as much, this book wasn't especially FUN to read. Some of the plot twists that should come across as humorous just felt dark and awkward to this reader....sorry to say it, but I don't recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like Lemony Snicket, and applaud books that upset settled conventions, but sometimes the Snicket books can just be a bit too snarky and sour. That's the risk an author takes when he writes in the Snicket style, and there are some frantic wannabe books out there that don't work at all.

"The Willoughbys", though, scores high marks indeed for juggling all of the demands of flaunting convention while staying entertaining, amusing and edifying. The book is fun to read yourself or to have read to you, and I am assured that no actual children were harmed in its making.
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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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