Monday, March 31, 2008

The Willoughbys

Lowry, Lois. 2008. The Willoughbys. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The dust jacket alone is proof enough that Lois Lowry, known for her deep, award-winning and thought-provoking novels, is having a bit of fun. The cover art is a penned sketch of a small, three-story home with a red door. Underneath the drawing are the words "A Novel, Nefariously Written & Ignominiously Illustrated by the Author."

Clearly, this novel about aspiring orphans, Timothy, Jane, and the twins (A & B), is meant as a light-hearted spoof on classic literary tales (Anne of Green Gables, Mary Poppins, Pollyanna, etc.), as well as a nod to the more modern tales of the Penderwick and Baudelaire children.

The plot is set in motion when a baby is left on the Willoughbys doorstep. The self-serving and neglectful parents want nothing to do with the child - indeed, they want nothing to do with their own children either! The children, under the direction of the tyrannical Timothy, leave the child on the doorstep of a reclusive millionaire; first naming the child Ruth, so as to leave themselves "Ruth-less."

The lives of the Willoughby children, the millionaire, Ruth, and Nanny, (and a young boy in lederhosen, "Ach. I forgotzenplunkt. Sorrybrauten.") become entwined when Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby decide to take a trip with the Reprehensible Travel Agency. The children hope that the parents will not survive. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby plan that the house will be sold and the children will be gone by the time they return. They do, however, send postcards,

"The crocodile river was such fun. Two tourists were eaten in huge gulps but it was not sad at all because they were French. ... Tomorrow we are taking a helicopter trip over an erupting volcano. We got quite a bargain because the pilot has not completed his training. ... By the way, when the house is sold and you move elsewhere, could you leave your clothes behind? We will take them to the secondhand shop and get a commission."

The children often make their decision based on what "good old-fashioned people" would do, with humorous results. When the real estate agent tries to sell the home and directs them to hide in the coal bin, they instead masquerade as a lamp, a rug, a coat rack, and a cactus! Nanny powders herself and strikes a pose as an alabaster Aphrodite! None of this is out of place in The Willoughbys - a delightful romp through "good old-fashioned" stories.

A Glossary of words necessary to "good old-fashioned" stories follows. Some of the words one couldn't do without? Bilious, lugubrious, nefarious, odious - need I say more?

Finally, Lowry concludes with a Bibliography, mixing the likes of The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May and Jane Eyre, with other "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."

Good fun!

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