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The Willoughbys (2008)

by Lois Lowry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,429999,191 (3.8)77
In this tongue-in-cheek take on classic themes in children's literature, the four Willoughby children set about to become "deserving orphans" after their neglectful parents embark on a treacherous around-the-world adventure, leaving them in the care of an odious nanny.
  1. 30
    James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (avatiakh)
    avatiakh: Included in The Willoughbys bibliography of books with appealing orphans, stingy relatives, winsome children, generous benefactors etc etc
  2. 30
    The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (jbarry, CurrerBell)
    jbarry: old-timey fun
  3. 30
    Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (avatiakh)
    avatiakh: Included in The Willoughbys bibliography of books with appealing orphans, stingy relatives, winsome children, generous benefactors etc etc
  4. 20
    The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (_Zoe_)
    _Zoe_: Both books play with the idea of the "old-fashioned" children's story and are a lot of fun.
  5. 10
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (avatiakh)
    avatiakh: Included in The Willoughbys bibliography of books with appealing orphans, stingy relatives, winsome children, generous benefactors etc etc
  6. 00
    The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter (foggidawn)
  7. 00
    A House Called Awful End by Philip Ardagh (Rubbah)
  8. 00
    Pure Dead Magic by Debi Gliori (Rubbah)
    Rubbah: gothic fun for children
  9. 01
    From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (jbarry)
    jbarry: clever children abound
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» See also 77 mentions

English (98)  Spanish (1)  All languages (99)
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
I thought this book was beautifully written in the short amount of pages that the book contained. I read it in one day because I wanted to know what happened. The character names are interesting and the parents don't care about their kids which makes the book intriguing. ( )
  snickel63 | Aug 21, 2020 |
00010555
  lcslibrarian | Aug 13, 2020 |
It was a fun read but I vastly preferred the movie. ( )
  TheWordReaper | May 27, 2020 |
In The Willoughbys, two-time Medalist Lois Lowry makes fun of prevalent clichés in classic children’s literature – the “four worthy orphans with a no-nonsense nanny,” the “bereaved benefactor with a ward” (an abandoned baby), selfish parents, and a plucky boy – by weaving them together in a tongue-in-cheek tale.

It takes a few chapters to warm to the main characters, the Willoughby children who wish to be orphans like those in the “old-fashioned” books they like to read, whose parents don’t really want to be parents. This could be a dark tale (like some of Roald Dahl’s or the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books by Lemony Snicket), but it quickly becomes amusing.

Some of the humor I enjoyed included the fractured faux-German spoken by the plucky boy ("Schlee you later, alligatorplatz!" and "Ach. I forgotzenplunkt. Sorrybrauten," for example), and puns on the baby ward’s name, Ruth (when the Willoughbys leave her on the candy-maker benefactor’s doorstep, they are Ruth-less, and the candy-maker eventually names a confection after Baby Ruth).

The best parts of the book are at the end – the glossary and bibliography of 13 classic children’s books. Lowry uses 38 big words in her book, and provides funny definitions in the glossary. Example: “IGNOMINIOUS means shamefully weak and ineffective….This book has ignominious illustrations. They are shamefully weak because the person who drew them [Lowry herself] is not an artist.” I love the fact that Lowry challenges her readers to expand their vocabularies!

The annotated bibliography of "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," which include The Secret Garden, Pollyanna and The Bobbsey Twins, with all but one published in 1934 or earlier. Their descriptions are droll; for example, Little Women: "Meg is mature and sensible. Jo is literary and boyish. Amy is vain and foolish. Beth is saintly and dies."

The more of the bibliography books you’ve read (or know of), the more (I think) you will appreciate this book’s parody. I’d only completely read three of the 13, but I was familiar with all but two of them. That may be a problem for today’s kids, as I’m guessing most of them have perhaps only read James and the Giant Peach (the only one published after 1934, and that in 1961).

I think this book would be a great read-aloud by parents who have read some of the bibliography, and will also be enjoyed by children who like snarky stories (like Snicket’s and Dahl’s) and won’t be upset by the unsympathetic characters (it does have the obligatory happy ending). It’s a fast, easy read. ( )
1 vote rdg301library | Oct 2, 2019 |
A fun, tongue in cheek joke on "old fashioned" novels and children -- think The Boxcar Children, Bobbsey Twins, E. Nesbit, with a dash of Lemony Snicket thrown in. I had a great time reading it. However, I suspect that a typical ten year old, the intended audience, won't get this book at all, unless they are remarkably well read on old children's books. ( )
  JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 98 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lowry, Loisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bender, Ruthsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, ArteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kerline, FrancisTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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fur meine deutschen Madchen, Nadine und Annika
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Once upon a time there was a family named Willoughby: an old-fashioned type of family, with four children.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In this tongue-in-cheek take on classic themes in children's literature, the four Willoughby children set about to become "deserving orphans" after their neglectful parents embark on a treacherous around-the-world adventure, leaving them in the care of an odious nanny.

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Four annoying children work hard at becoming orphaned by their odious parents. Eventually, the parents abandon them to a capable nanny, and finally the children find their Happily Ever After.
I didn't look at the copyright date before starting the text, something I usually do. I was surprised to find the book was published so recently - it uses many themes and cliches of "classic" or "old fashioned" children's literature. There was far more snarking and silliness than I'd expected as well - not as much snarking and gloom-&-doom, perhaps, as in the Lemony Snicket books, but certainly enough to evoke a comparison to Roald Dahl here and there. This book definitely plays more to the parody though.
I'd be careful to which class or individuals I'd assign this book. This is a great book for fluent readers and good decoders of sarcasm and silliness. However, I think this could be a disastrous assignment for a less-fluent reader or a reader with more difficulty decoding for meaning, be it etymological or emotional.
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