Saturday, June 20, 2009
Okay, I'll start right off with recognizing this book may not be for everyone. Its dark humor and lampooning of beloved "old-fashioned" children's literature may rub some the wrong way. But I have to admit I loved The Willoughbys
and think that author Lois Lowry outdid herself in the writing of a true laugh aloud winner.
The Willoughbys is about four children (Tim, Barnaby and Barnaby and Jane) who recognize that their situation would improve immensely if they were orphans. They live with their perfectly awful mother and father who "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." The children realize that many heroes/heroines in classic tales were orphans (James of James and the Giant Peach, Anne of Anne of Green Gables.). So they go to the Reprehensible Travel Agency to pick up some travel brochures to entice their parents to be on their way. Simultaneously, upon reading Hansel and Gretel one evening, the parents realize that they don't much care for their kids and come up with a plan to get rid of their kids.
The resulting story takes place with the parents setting off for unsafe places across the world, the introduction of a nanny, the kids dealing with the fact that their parents put their house up for sale (with them in it), a baby left on the doorstep and a candy-maker billionaire neighbor who is mourning the loss of his long lost son. If it sounds farfetched, it's because it is, and yet it works. It's a delightful word romp and a parody of good old-fashioned children's literature.
Be sure to read both the Glossary and Bibliography at the end, which manage to tie up the story neatly. In the glossary, Lowry defines some of the words she used in the book. For example: "Nefarious means utterly, completely wicked. The character in the Wizard of Oz could have been called the Nefarious Witch of the West but authors like to use the same beginning consonant, often. Perhaps L. Frank Baum crossed out the word nefarious after wicked came to his mind. Thank goodness, because nefarious would be a terrible name for a musical."
In the Bibliography, Lowry includes a list (and brief description) of the books referenced throughout The Willoughbys. For example, "Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, published 1868. Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy live with their mother, whom they call Marmee, while their father is off in the Civil War. They have many adventures, and some misfortunes. Meg is mature and sensible. Jo is literary and boyish. Amy is vain and foolish. Beth is saintly and dies."
While this is marketed as a book for 8 to 12 year olds, I think slightly older kids will like it too. Its tongue-in-cheek humor will appeal to all (adults too).
BookNosher Tidbit: Arte Johnson (of Laugh In fame) is the reader for The Willoughby's on tape. Here's a link to the booksontape site, and here's a sample of his reading: