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Return to the Willows

Return to the Willows

4.5 2
by Jacqueline Kelly, Clint Young (Illustrator), Kenneth Grahame

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Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger are back for more rollicking adventures in this sequel to The Wind in the Willows. With lavish illustrations by Clint Young, Jacqueline Kelly masterfully evokes the magic of Kenneth Grahame's beloved children's classic and brings it to life for a whole new generation.


Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger are back for more rollicking adventures in this sequel to The Wind in the Willows. With lavish illustrations by Clint Young, Jacqueline Kelly masterfully evokes the magic of Kenneth Grahame's beloved children's classic and brings it to life for a whole new generation.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…[Kelly] has not only fashioned a witty adventure that is worthy of Grahame, but has done him one better by placing a child character—an agreeably nerdy nephew of Toad's named Humphrey—at the center of the action…it's a welcome surprise to find Toad and friends once more: on the road, in the Wild Wood and best of all, in one another's good company.
—Leonard S. Marcus
Publishers Weekly
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a toad in possession of a fortune must be in want of adventure,” writes Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) in this sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 classic, The Wind in the Willows, in which she supplies a boatload of mayhem and mishaps for Mr. Toad and company. An “Animal of Action,” Toad has tired of messing about in boats and stealing motorcars. He sets his sights skyward with predictably disastrous results: a crash, a head injury, and a daring expedition to recover the lost aircraft culminate in a battle waged with birthday cake and baguettes (in place of swords). While Kelly’s story is more plot-driven than Grahame’s, she evokes an old-fashioned feel by retaining the original’s Britishisms, translated for American readers with explanatory footnotes (though most children could probably figure out that a jam roly-poly is a jelly roll without help). Newcomer Young’s artwork (not seen in color by PW) captures both the comedic aspects of the anthropomorphized cast and the serenity of the natural world in which they wreak their havoc. It’s an affectionate follow-up to a classic of children’s literature, one that succeeds on its own as a humorous and adventurous romp along the riverbank and into the Wild Wood. Ages 8–up. Agent: Marcy Posner, Folio Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“[a] fast-paced, madcap adventure.” —The New York Times

“Evoking the ineffable mixture of capers and camaraderie that has kept the original in print for so long, she serves up a roistering, boisterous tale of hot-air balloons, fireworks and GBQs*. And while youngsters are lapping up Toad's adventures, howling as he rockets from lugubrious to lovable in the space of a chapter, adults lucky enough to read this aloud will also have lots of sly asides to chuckle over....” —The Washington Post

“Engaging from beginning to end, this sequel is superb.” —School Library Journal

“...an affectionate follow-up to a classic of children's literature, one that succeeds on its own as a humorous and adventurous romp along the riverbank and into the Wild Wood.” —Publishers Weekly

“Writing a sequel to such a beloved classic is almost as bold a move as Toad stealing a motor-car, but happily, Kelly's results warrant accolades rather than a trip to gaol.” —Kirkus

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is the most delightful historical novel for tweens in many, many years. . . . Callie's struggles to find a place in the world where she'll be encouraged in the gawky joys of intellectual curiosity are fresh, funny, and poignant today.” —The New Yorker

“Each chapter of this winning . . . novel opens with a quotation from On the Origin of Species--a forbidden book that her own grandfather turns out to have hidden away. Together they study Darwin's masterpiece, leading to a revolution in Callie's ideas of what she might accomplish on her own.” —The New York Times Book Review on The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

“Callie's transformation into an adult and her unexpected bravery make for an exciting and enjoyable read. Kelly's rich images and setting, believable relationships and a touch of magic take this story far.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family--the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings--all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel.” —Booklist, starred review on The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

“Narrator Calpurnia's voice is fresh and convincing, and Granddaddy is that favorite relative most readers would love to claim as their own. Historical fiction fans are in for a treat.” —BCCB on The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Kirkus Reviews
Writing a sequel to such a beloved classic is almost as bold a move as Toad stealing a motor-car, but happily, Kelly's results warrant accolades rather than a trip to gaol. The Mole, Water Rat, Toad and Badger are comfortingly recognizable in this charming pastoral with adventures. Mole and Rat adore their bucolic River, and wealthy Toad tools around in a hot-air balloon (a hilarious metaphor for his blustery boastfulness) until a head injury renders him an Oxford-and-Cambridge–courted genius. This new Toad studies "hard data" on the woodchuck-chucking question and publishes "Jam Side Down: A Discourse on the Physics of Falling Toast." While Toad's at Cambridge serving as Lumbago Endowed Chair of Extremely Abstruse Knowledge, his nephew Humphrey goes unsupervised at Toad Hall. Firecracker explosions, a kidnapping and a war with weasels and stoats--including a Trojan Horse–like birthday cake--supply action; the Mole's dedication to his dear Ratty supplies heart. New bits include a savvy female character and footnotes that alternate in tone between amusing and lecturing (and are hit or miss in their effectiveness). Lower-class bad guys and a gypsy costume are outdated stereotypes, if true to the period of the original. Literary references range delightfully from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to a tender closing page where Mole reads to Ratty's child (imagine!) a book that's clearly The Wind in the Willows. Funny and warm, this could tempt a new generation toward the raptures of "messing about in boats." (Animal fantasy. 6-10)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Toad's brainy nephew, Humphrey, has been kidnapped by Chief Weasel and Under-Stoat in order to repair the hot-air balloon that Toad lost in an unfortunate accident with a church steeple while Mole was a passenger. Yes, it's the characters from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows brought back to life. An old-fashioned yarn, complete with Young's superb full-color paintings throughout, recounts the exploits of Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad as they attempt to rescue Humphrey from the weasels and stoats in the dreaded Wild Wood. Hapless Toad becomes temporarily brilliant from a bump on the head and attempts to solve all the Great Big Questions such as: "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Rat finds a love interest and Mole fears his comfortable days of floating on the river with Rat will come to an end. The title page describes the book as being a "respectful sequel… containing helpful commentary, explanatory footnotes, and translation from the English language into American." These often-amusing footnotes, commentary, and translations, along with the use of richly descriptive language, produce a deeply satisfying story that would make a great read-aloud choice for a motorcar full of happy passengers. Engaging from beginning to end, this sequel is superb.—Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Our Story Begins


In which those of us who are familiar with the Rat and Mole hail them as old friends. And for those of you who aren’t, well, you should put this book down right away and ask your librarian for the first book so you won’t be entirely clueless. (Oh, all right. You can come along if you promise to keep up, but no moaning about being lost.)

The Mole and Water Rat drifted along the River in a tiny blue-and-white rowboat. The current gurgled and chuckled, delighted with its comrades for the day. The sun smiled down upon our heroes and gladdened their hearts; the lightest of zephyrs ruffled their fur. There was not a hawk in the sky, and even the dark fringe of the Wild Wood glowering in the distance could not cast a pall upon the shining hour.

The Rat pulled on the oars every now and then but mostly let the River do the work, for he was busy composing poems in his head, rhyming “dream” with “stream,” that sort of thing. The Mole had brought along a good book to read (for it is a firm and fast rule that one should never leave one’s burrow without a good book in hand), and was deeply immersed in the adventures of a young girl who’d fallen down a rabbit hole. The hole was unlike any the Mole had ever visited—and he had visited any number of them in his time, for he counted a great many rabbits among his friends—but he was enjoying it immensely, as he was very fond of all stories that took place underground. He leaned back upon a plump cushion and wiggled his toes in sheer happiness.

From time to time, the Rat auditioned a new ditty by speaking it aloud, to see whether it lived and breathed in the open air, or withered and died as so many rhymes do when they are first introduced to the world. (It is a strange fact that many of those rhymes which ring true in the composer’s head will, when spoken aloud, limp and wheeze in the most pathetic manner, and are best put out of their misery right away.1)

Really, sighed the Mole to himself, the day was perfect. Or at least it would be, if only the Rat would stop interrupting his reading.

Honestly, thought the Rat, the day was ideal. Or at least it would be, if only the Mole would put down his book and pay proper attention.

“Moly, listen here. Can you think of a word that rhymes with balloon? The only thing I can come up with is mushroom, and that doesn’t work at all. One should avoid fungus in poetry, as a rule.”

With great reluctance, Mole tore himself away from an intriguing chapter about a frightfully odd tea party, in which two of the characters were trying to stuff a third into the teapot. The thought of a dormouse bobbing about in the tea struck the Mole as a shockingly shabby way to treat a guest, to say nothing of unhygienic.

He said, “Why do you need a rhyme for balloon?”

The Rat looked at him incredulously and said, “Haven’t you heard? Why, it’s the talk of the River. Toad’s grown bored with boats, and his motor-car craze is fading, so now he’s gone out and bought himself a—”

“Yoo-hoo!” came a gleeful familiar voice. It sounded very much like their friend Toad, but he was nowhere to be seen. Toad’s voice was present, but Toad, in the flesh, was not.

“What nonsense is he up to now?” said the Rat, frowning. “He really is a most provoking creature.”

“Hulloo, hulloo! Up here, you two!” sniggered the invisible Toad. “I’m up here!”

A passing cloud momentarily blotted out the sun. The two looked up to see that the cloud was not in fact a cloud, but rather a huge yellow balloon sailing overhead, a majestic airship, as shocking as another sun in the sky. The Mole gasped, and his heart skittered in his chest, for he’d never seen anything so splendid in all his life.

Suspended in the wicker basket below the balloon, waving and hullooing at them, was the familiar podgy form of Toad.

“As I was about to say,” said the Rat drily, “he’s bought himself a brand-new balloon, and I hear it cost the earth. Shall we place a bet on how long this phase lasts?”

The Mole ignored him, fixated as he was on the enormous globe. He clasped his paws together and breathed, “Oh, my.”

“Hoy, you two, what d’you think?” yelled Toad, his voice growing fainter as a current of wind spirited him away. “Ain’t she a beaut? I’ll take you fellows for a ride one day, if you like.”

The Mole could barely make out these last few words. But they stuck in his brain and lodged in his heart.

The Rat chattered on, making rude comments about Toad’s passing manias and how they never lasted and how he was sure to come to grief this time, and that he—Rat—only hoped that he—Toad—didn’t take some innocent victim with him when it happened, as it was bound to. For although Toad was in many respects a fine fellow, he possessed (let’s face it) a light and volatile character, and trailed catastrophe in his wake at every turn, and was not to be trusted with conveyances of any kind, and so forth and so on.

The Mole, his book long forgotten in his lap, ignored him. Eyes agleam, mouth agape, he stared at the balloon until it shrank to a speck on the horizon.

“Mole?” Ratty examined him with astonishment and not a little alarm, for the Mole’s expression was one the Rat had seen before, specifically on the visage of Toad when he’d first laid eyes on a motor-car, and been swept up in his craze for speed and the pull of the open road. “Moly?”

“Hmm?” said the Mole.

“Mole, old fellow, whatever’s come over you?”

The Mole said, “Hmm? What was that?”

“Now, look here,” said the Rat severely, “if you’re thinking of ballooning with Toad, you’ve got to put that idea right out of your head. He’s not competent to operate a tricycle, let alone a flying machine. Good heavens, man, you’d be taking your life in your hands!”

The Mole’s expression changed, and his eyes regained their focus. “I s’pose you’re right, Ratty. You’re always right about that sort of thing. Still, it must be nice…” His voice trailed off for a moment, but then he rallied and said, “Never mind. Messing about in boats is more than enough for me.”

A swift flitted by overhead, carving the sky into invisible loops with its acrobatics. It glanced at the boat and then, disbelieving its own eyes, swooped and circled back, landing lightly on the bow. The bird cocked its head and surveyed the tiny vessel’s passengers.

“My word,” chirruped the Swift, “it is a mole after all. A Water Rat is to be expected, but a Water Mole? I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.”

“Good morning, Swift,” said Mole. “Ratty has introduced me to the pleasures—nay, the joys! of the nautical life. He’s taught me how to row and swim, and I’m here to tell you that there is nothing, simply nothing, so grand as messing about in boats.”

“That may be true,” retorted the Swift, “but it isn’t a natural state for a ground dweller such as yourself.”

“Natural or not,” said Ratty stoutly, “my friend here is every bit at home on the River as I am. He’s quite an expert on the life aquatic.”

The Swift ignored this and continued, “You don’t see fish burrowing in the ground, do you? Leastways, not any self-respecting fish with a lick of common sense. Ergo, moles should not swim, or float about in boats, for that matter.2 Since you, sir, are plainly a mole, your job is to grub about in the earth. You were born and bred for it, and that’s all there is to it. Why, next you’ll want to fly, and all of Nature will be set on its head, topsy-turvy. It ain’t natural, I tell you.”

And with that, the Swift launched himself into the air and flew away before the Mole could think of a suitably crushing retort. (Mole, despite his many sterling qualities, was not always the most nimble-witted creature when it came to composing the withering riposte.)

“What colossal cheek!” Rat said. “Don’t let that bird bother you, Moly. He’s just jealous.” Rat went on about it at length and even threw in some harrumphing noises until his friend felt better.

Toad’s magic words, “I’ll take you fellows for a ride … for a ride…,” grew louder in the Mole’s head; his imagination swirled with visions of the dazzling yellow aircraft. Who could’ve imagined that such a machine existed? Even better, that the whole point of its existence was to make flight possible for earthbound beings, including modest tillers of the humble soil? As in, let us say, moles? As in, for example, one mole in particular? Why should those lucky creatures who’d been blessed with wings be the only ones to soar and swoop and glide and dip?

He picked up his book and soon appeared to be engrossed in his reading, but if the Rat had been paying more attention, he would have noticed that his friend did not turn a single page throughout the rest of their excursion.


Text copyright © 2012 by Jacqueline Kelly

Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Clint Young

Meet the Author

Jacqueline Kelly was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada. She now makes her home with her husband and various cats and dogs in Austin and Fentress, Texas. She is a practicing physician. Her first novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, was a Newbery Honor winner.

Clint G. Young was born and lives in Dallas, Texas.

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Return to the Willows 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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