Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys have four children: the eldest Tim, the twins (both named Barnaby), and little Jane.  Being an old-fashioned family such as one reads about in old children's books with burgundy covers, the children plan to become orphans.  As their parents are still living, this poses some difficulty.  Luckily, their parents are hoping to abandon the children, either by deserting them deep in the woods or by departing on a tour of Switzerland (the end up choosing the latter).  But with the help of an odious Nanny, the children manage to find a rich benefactor, as old-fashioned children always do.

An enormously tongue-in-cheek send up of classic children's literature, this short and clever satire is small parts Lemony Snickett and Edward Gorey, but mostly knowing winks.  Highlights include the story's convoluted plot which comes together in the end through ridiculous coincidences that combine together the endings of a dozen classic novels. Throughout, various asides and non-sequiturs provide the opportunity to reflect upon deep matters like why helpful nannies are so easy to find and Swiss people are so helpful. The glossary of fancy words at the end and a hilarious annotated bibliography of the source material is worth the price of the book many times over.  Brilliant satire and utterly wasted on modern children.

And now, after twelve years, with a sequel....

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