"What if this were a story in a book with a well-worn maroon leather binding? What would good old-fashioned people do in this situation?" This is the question posed by Nanny, the caretaker to four children in Lois Lowry's latest book, The Willoughbys.
It's a wonderful, laugh-out-loud-funny spoof of old-fashioned children's books that are full of noble, heroic children, evil adults and many tragic turns. In this case, the evil adults are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, who "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." They grow so annoyed with their offspring that they hire a nanny, take a lengthy sea voyage, and put their house up for sale while they're away.
Meanwhile, the Willoughby children have found an abandoned baby on their doorstep. After their mother refuses to care for it, they leave the baby at the mansion of a sad recluse, Mr. Melanoff, whose wife and son have been missing for years in an avalanche in Switzerland. Of course, many grand adventures and plot twists ensue in the course of this easy-to-read, fast-paced book.
Nanny and the four children end up getting along famously, and all hope that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby are eaten by crocodiles during their travels. The children are a charming, fun brood, prone to bickering, of course, and reminiscent of many other literary clans, including the four children in the Narnia books.
Newbery Medal-winning author Lowry, who contributed her own black-and-white line drawings to the book, is one of the best children's writers working today, truly amazing in her depth and versatility. She is known for serious books such as The Giver and Number the Stars, as well as for more light-hearted tales such as Gooney Bird Greene and, now, The Willoughbys.
The rip-roaring adventures of the Willoughbys would make a wonderful read-aloud for your own old-fashioned clan, with loads of fun and laughs on each and every page.
Alice Cary keeps her clan together in Groton, Massachusetts.