July 10, 2012

The Willoughbys

THE WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry (Yearling, 2010)
GENRE: Humor
HONORS: Iowa Children's Choice Award

REVIEW: The Willoughbys is an "old-fashioned" story about the four Willoughby children - oldest brother Tim, the twins, Barnaby A and Barnaby B and youngest sister, Jane. As is true in many "old-fashioned" stories, the Willoughby parents are despicable people, neglectful, mean and disinterested. Inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretle, they decide to abandon their children, but these children are just as disenchanted with their parents as their parents are with them, so they put into effect a counter-plan to become worthy orphans. The Willoughby's is a parody of those great, old-fashioned members of the children's book canon - Heidi, The Secret Garden, Mary Poppins and the like, filled with gentle send ups of popular tropes such as the charming, no-nonsense nanny and the sad, lonely millionaire.  Though it begins shakily (Tim, who is bossy to the point of despicability himself, and the other children re-abandon an abandoned baby found on their door-step, thus painting themselves as less than sympathetic), Lowry moves forward with a masterful command of both her own skills and the material she is satirizing. By the end of the story, the threads are tied together in lovely, emotionally satisfying bows.

OPINION: Modern tweens may not recognize all of tropes and books that Lowry uses, but they don't have to. It is just as funny taken on it's own merits, thanks to Lowry's sense of the ridiculous and light, narrative voice. Though it is a slight offering by an author honored for more serious works, The Willoughbys is a satisfying read and pleasant surprise.

IDEAS: Create a display using all of the titles mentioned or referenced in the story (Lowry provides titles and descriptions at the end). Also great for classroom use - it's chock full of fantastic vocabulary like "odious" and "winsome" and even features a glossery with highly appealing and slightly irreverent definitions at the back.

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