Friday, March 21, 2008

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books (March 31, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0618979743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618979745

I'm a longtime fan of Lois Lowry's--so much so that when I was teaching, I created units of instruction for The Giver and Number the Stars. You can only imagine how happy I was to learn that she was releasing another novel this year, but be warned those of you familiar with Lois Lowry's work--this is very different from her other works but oh so DELIGHTFUL.

This Lemony Snicketish novel features the four Willoughby children who long to be "old fashioned," like the characters in many of the books they love like Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and James and the Giant Peach. Tim, the oldest, is the rather bossy leader of his siblings: identical twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B (A and B for short), and the youngest and timid Jane. It's very clear from the beginning that their parents are well--not that much into being parents. The banker father is "impatient and irascible," and their mother is "indolent and ill-tempered." They "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." They actually become so irritable with their children that they devise a plan to get rid of them by selling their house while they go on vacation. Little do they know that this adventurous (and highly dangerous) vacation is the children's plan to get rid of their parents so that they may finally become old-fashioned orphans. But things don't go EXACTLY as planned, and along the way, the Willoughby children learn a little bit about kindness and find a loving family of their own.

I found myself snickering at the book from the very beginning, and it's actually kind of difficult to tie it up into a neat little description. It's dark yet irreverent and lighthearted at the same time. Lowry does a fantastic job of weaving in hilarious scenarios and funny characters, from the kind nanny who disguises herself as Aphrodite to scare off potential home buyers to the rich benefactor who made his fortune in the candy industry. I also immensely enjoyed the references to lots of classic "orphan" books she pokes fun of.

But let me SHOW you what I'm talking about. In this passage, the children receive a postcard from their parents.

"'Dear ones,'" Tim read. "'Though slightly bruised, we have survived quite a lovely earthquake (you may have read the headlines: THOUSANDS KILLED)...'"

"'Oh my," Jane said sadly. "I suppose kittens were killed, too. How sad."

"Shhh," Tim told her, and he continued. '"...and next we are off to kayak a crocodile-infested river. Such FUN! '"

"They don't know how to kayak!" Barnaby A exclaimed.

"They never once have kayaked," his twin added.

"Precisely," Tim said. (pages 56-57)

Even Lowry's glossary in the back is injected with this same type of bizarre humor, and she even takes a poke at herself:

IGNOMINIOUS means shamefully weak and ineffective. Oliver Twist saying, "Please sir, might I have some more?" would be ignominious, except that he isn't shameful, just sort of pathetic. This book has ignominious illustrations. They are shamefully weak because the person who drew them is not an artist. (p. 163)
(Lowry herself sketched all of the illustrations in the book).

I predict that children and parents alike will love this book even though some young children may not get all of the jokes. However, those that do will probably read it over and over again and find something new to laugh at every time. I admit that I was first a little skeptical when I heard that Lowry would be writing a humorous book, but like all of her books, she executed it with perfection and added her own special style.

The Willoughbys will be officially released on March 31st, but it's available on now.

What other bloggers are saying:

A Fuse #8 Production: "
It’s a great book for kids and adults alike. Perhaps it is not for all takers, but those with a keen sense of humor and a taste for the bizarre will enjoy this winsome tale of the beastly, the diabolical, the irascible, and the unkempt. An auspicious departure." (read more of Ms. Bird's review)

The Goddess of YA Literature: "
Though the book is aimed at younger readers, it will work well in classrooms dealing with humor and satire and irony nicely." (read more of the Goddess' review)

Sarah Miller: Reading, Writing, Musing
"This ain't no Giver, but it is a wonderfully snarky romp with the unmistakable flavor of Roald Dahl and a dash of Lemony Snicket. Outlandish? Yep. Likely to be too much for some hyper-sensitive parents? You betcha. Precisely why I loved it." (read more of Sarah's review)


  1. This one is in my stack, Jill. Thanks for making me want to read it even more. And I like how you included not just links, but excerpts from other people's reviews, too. Very nice!

  2. Thanks Jen! I think you'll definitely like this one...glad to hear you're almost settled in after your move!

  3. I just saw this on Amazon and put it on my wish list, but was wondering if I should buy it or not...I think now I'll buy it!
    I'll use it as a read aloud for my 13 and 12 year olds.

  4. Becky,
    Thanks for stopping by! I think you and your 12 and 13 year old will like it. Let me know what you think after you read it!

  5. I can't wait to read this one. I am amazed by Lowry's talent, too. My ds (age 11) & I are reading "Gossamer" together right now. And it's almost as good as "The Giver".

    Part of what amazes me is how incredibly different all of books are. How does she come up with these varied worlds?

  6. Hi Sandy,
    Thanks so much for dropping by! I haven't read Gossamer, but it's on my list of books to read. Lois Lowry is definitely amazing--what I wouldn't give to spend one day in her mind.

  7. Hi!

    I just reviewed this on my blog here:

    And I linked to your review because it was one of the ones which convinced me to get it.

    thanks :)

  8. Hi Lenore,
    Thanks for linking to my review, and I'm glad you liked the book. Since I wrote my review, I've read a lot of mixed reviews. I guess it's not a book for everyone, but I really liked it!