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The Willoughbys Paperback – March 23, 2010
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* The ever-versatile Lowry offers what she calls an “old-fashioned story,” complete with stock elements such as a baby left on a doorstep and a nanny who transforms her initially ill-behaved charges. Sly humor and a certain deadpan zaniness give literary conventions an ironic twist, with hilarious results. The Willoughby family consists of bossy elder brother Tim, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, little sister Jane, and their parents, who are despicable. Mrs. Willoughby insists that the twins share one sweater, and Mr. Willoughby abruptly stops reading aloud “Hansel and Gretel” one evening because the mother in the story has given him an idea—abandon the children! The parents take a vacation and, while away, sell their house, leaving the children and nanny to shift for themselves. Meanwhile, the children plot how to become orphans, “like children in an old-fashioned book.” Many are the ways used by children’s novelists to get their protagonists’ parents out of the way, but Lowry’s solution here is particularly inventive and wickedly amusing. A glossary humorously defines words seldom seen in newfangled books (the new nanny: villainous, lugubrious, or odious?), and an annotated bibliography comments on 13 old-fashioned children’s books referenced within the story. Great fun. Grades 4-6. --Carolyn Phelan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
My first contact with Lois Lowry was way back in l986 when, on first sharing several of her books with my fifth grade class, I wrote to her, expressing my good fortune in discovering her books and the fun I had reading them to my kids. She responded to my letter and has done likewise over the years as I established a rapport with not only an author of increasing note (her Newberry Awards were not too distant in the future) but with a friend.
Lois has always provided the children for whom she writes the opportunity for a most worthwhile reading experience. It's obvious, in books from the "Anastasia" series to books in the vein of "The Giver" or "Number the Stars," that she has great respect for the youngsters who become her audience. The release of a new book is something, then, for them to eagerly anticipate...and "The Willouby's" is no exception. From start to finish, readers delight in what is not only a "parody" but a story that will have readers eager to read to book's end to see just how this parody will be handled and story resolved. Kids, parody aside, will be anxious to read to book's end to see just what becomes of these children, abandoned by their parents, left in the care of a nanny, making their way into the care of a recluse candy maker, he whose life is radically altered by actions taken by the original four children, eager to dispose of a baby they find on their own doorstep. Parody of stories of old? Yes. But also a story that one eagerly reads for its "happy ending." And might there be any youngster who won't feel that the wonderful glossary at the end of the book is "icing on the cake?" And might readers not fully familiar with the stories and authors of old mentioned through Lois' book be prompted to perhaps pick up "Little Women," "The Secret Garden," and the like and enjoy stories of other children who have been part of "children's literature" for years and years? Yes, Lois' book is a parody, but children love reading of other children, and it will be the lucky youngster who chooses to make him or herself familiar with these characters from "stories of old." Hence, Lois' "bibliography" of sorts at book's end, where these classic stories are all listed, along with a brief description of each book's content, author, date published.
Whether you're a teacher anxious to see Lois' new book as part of your school's library of books or added to a classroom's reading list for both enjoyment of reading but, just as important, discussion of the book's elements; whether you're a parent, anxious to find just the perfect book for a youngster as a gift, Lois, as well as so many other fine writers of books for younger readers, will not disappoint. Move from her latest offering to the other books she's written...especially if this is a first introduction of the author to you and your child or the children in your classroom. I always told my kids, when I taught and read, over the years, oh, so many books to them (for their enjoyment AND mine), some of the best literature created over these many years has been written for THEM. Kids can be quite discerning; it's the fortunate parent or teacher who can guide them into an appreciation of just what's out there to be read and enjoyed. There's a veritable treasure to be found!