You’re probably mostly familiar with Lois Lowry, author of “Number the Stars” and “The Giver” fame (I didn’t read “The Giver” until I was in college, and now I’ve read it twice more since then. I love that book).
Lois Lowry’s most recent book is “The Willoughbys,” which I’ve heard a lot about, including from one of my professors. In true Lowry fashion, it’s quite different from her previous books.
The story is about four old-fashioned siblings who live in an old-fashioned house and do old-fashioned things like go to the zoo. They also love to read classic children’s books and soon realize that all the real fun happens to orphans. Where would Anne of Green Gables have been if she hadn’t started out at the orphanage? Or if Tom Sawyer had had some pesky parents?
If they’re to have any real fun in life, they decide, they need to become orphans. They go to a travel agency and find a brochure for some unbelievably dangerous travel destinations and send them to their parents, who, unbelievably up and take off. The parents hire an “odious nanny” as the children call her, but she turns out to be quite lovely and funny. The parents keep sending postcards describing their journeys. They take a helicopter ride over an active volcano with a pilot-in-training because he’s cheaper; they go canoeing down a crocodile infested river and two of the tourists get eaten, but it isn’t sad because they were French. Oh, and also, the house is up for sale and please hide in the coal bin when people come to look at the house?
Bart, who read the book aloud to me, fell in love with the book early when a baby is left on the Willoughbys’ doorstep (as, of course, often happens in children’s literature) and the Willoughbys take her to someone else’s house and deposit her on that doorstep, since they think she is not worth bothering about. They leave a little note on the basket noting that, if there is a reward, it should go to the Willoughbys. Then, the oldest brother leaves a little P.S. noting that the baby’s name is “Ruth.” When his siblings ask why, he replies that it’s because “we are the Ruth-less Willoughbys.” Come on – you can’t help but laugh at least a little.
The Willoughbys is full of those funny little tidbits – the boy who speaks English with a heinous German accent and pretends not to understand English, the oldest brother’s point system which is obviously completely in his favor, the father telling his children to hurry and up and choose a book because he’s right in the middle of a article about interest rates – and they really round the book out in a lovely way. The book was very charming and a quick read. And, although I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, I have to admit to being a tiny bit disappointed in it. I had such high high hopes for it, that it would be hard for it to meet them, I realize, but it didn’t seem to be quite as funny as the Lemony Snickett books are (the books are quite similar to one another – in fact, Lemony Snickett wrote the review for Publishers Weekly which is hilarious).