Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review: The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

 The Willoughbys
Written by Lois Lowry

 I had no idea what I was getting into when I borrowed this book from the library. I have been trying to read as many Lois Lowry books as I can get my hands on. So to that end, I ordered this sight unseen from the website, and picked it up when they called me. (LOVE that service!)
 On the cover, at the bottom I read, "A NOVEL Nefariously Written & Ignominiously Illustrated by the Author." That should give you a clue as to the tone of this book. The summery of the inside jacket flap reads:
"Shouldn't we be orphans?" one of the Willoughby children suggests one day. The four are, after all, part of an old-fashioned kind of family, and their parents - well, their parents are not all one would hope for.
Recalling literary heroes and heroines such as Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, and James and the Giant Peach, the Willoughbys concoct a diabolical plot to turn themselves into worthy and winsome orphans. Little do they know that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have already begun to formulate their own thoroughly despicable plan inspired by another favorite bedtime story: the tale of Hansel and Gretel...
From cover to cover this book was a delight for me to read. It is a satire of an "old-fashioned story", full of dastardly plots and nefarious characters, with many surprising twists and turns that touch on common themes in classic children's stories. It is the many references to these classic stories that make the inside joke of this book that much funnier.
  It's not a book that everyone will enjoy. The characters in this book are not very lovable (with the exception of baby Ruth), but you're not meant to love them. It would make a fun read-aloud book (just read it first and know your children.)
  I have to point out some funnier parts of the book that might be overlooked: the Glossary and Bibliography at the end. Please, PLEASE read them. They are hilarious! Ms. Lowry's definitions are a riot, for example:
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.
Her summaries of the books she makes reference to in her story are also funny.

And then go to the back flap and read the about-the-author blurb. Okay, never mind, I'll quote it here because I love it.
Influenced in her childhood by a mother who insisted on surrounding her with books instead of roller skates and jump ropes, Lois Lowry grew up lacking fresh air and exercise but with a keen understanding of plot, character, and setting. Every morning she opened the front door hoping to find an orphaned infant in a wicker basket. Alas, her hopes were always dashed and her dreams thwarted. She compensates by writing books. Today she is a wizened, reclusive old woman who sits hunched over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.
Ms. Lowry, thank you for the laughs.

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