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The Willoughbys


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About the Author

Lois Lowry is the author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including the New York Times bestselling Giver Quartet and 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. Ms. Lowry lives in Maine.


Lois 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 cliches 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 2008 Reed Business Information.

Gr 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 2008 Reed Business Information.

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