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The Big House

The Big House

4.5 8
by Carolyn Coman, Rob Shepperson (Illustrator)

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When their parents are sent “up the river” for embezzlement, Ray and Ivy are left to live in the lap of luxury with Marietta Noland and her ancient husband, Lionel. But life at the big house is not all it's cracked up to be. First there is the shrouded portrait, then there is the spider in the decaying wedding cake. And what about the vicious instrument


When their parents are sent “up the river” for embezzlement, Ray and Ivy are left to live in the lap of luxury with Marietta Noland and her ancient husband, Lionel. But life at the big house is not all it's cracked up to be. First there is the shrouded portrait, then there is the spider in the decaying wedding cake. And what about the vicious instrument Marietta uses to decapitate her egg? When "the rain in Spain" begins to fall (in other words, Ray wets his bed), things go from bad to worse and Ivy knows it is time to take matters into her own hands. What follows is a hilarious lark as Ray and Ivy case the joint, get the skinny, and show Marietta she has met her match.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coman (What Jamie Saw) displays her versatility with this sly comedy about Ivy and Ray, two kids sentenced to live with an heiress whose testimony has just sent their parents to jail for embezzlement. The Big House of the title isn't a prison, but rather "La Grande Maison," the mansion owned by the scheming Marietta Noland, who "kidnaps" the siblings in a limo, and then "leave[s them] to their own devices." That is, until Ray has a series of "unfortunate accident[s]," and Marietta banishes him to a room conveniently located close to the laundry. But what Ivy calls "solitary confinement" doesn't improve Ray's bladder control, and a new plan to send away the siblings to separate schools puts the pair in a panic. Coman salts the narrative with mysteries a bank robber grandfather with a felonious past, a shrouded portrait, a scroll hidden in a cake beneath a glass dome that culminate in a comical mock-trial in which Ray acts as prosecutor and Ivy as judge. In this affectionate portrayal of familial relations, Ivy serves not only as Ray's protector, but also as best friend and willing playmate. Though the parents are clearly flawed (they'd both "been sent off to jail before, but never at the same time"), Ivy and Ray love them, warts and all. Readers rooting for a happy ending will not be disappointed. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Young Ray and Ivy's parents have been sentenced to 25 years for embezzlement and the judge sends the youngsters to live, in the lap of luxury, with their parents' elderly accusers. Definitely her father's protégé, Ivy decides they will spend their time uncovering evidence to free their parents and reveal Marietta and Nolan for what they really are. Since no one at the big house pays any attention to them (except when "the rain in Spain" appears, i.e. when Ray wets his bed), the children are free to explore the mansion and the grounds. Their hideout under a rhododendron is like a security blanket. From there they plot and stage their moves—looking for clues, rigging up a message system when Ray is moved to a bedroom near the laundry, staging mock trials with Marietta's collection of dolls, and more. Amazingly, they do uncover some evidence that changes their lives forever. Writing with great humor, Coman has produced a book very different from her previous ones. She has captured the world and feelings of these two youngsters who must fend for themselves while hanging onto their dreams. Lively dialogue and many exciting moments will keep youngsters reading as they root for this spirited duo. Shepperson's pencil drawings add energy and fun to the story. 2004, Front Street, Ages 9 to 12.
—Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-In a real departure from her previous novels, Coman has created an enjoyable romp of a mystery. The story opens with a guilty verdict against Dan and Carol Fitts, the admittedly crooked parents of resourceful Ivy and her younger brother, Ray. The children are placed in the care of Marietta Noland, the snooty person who accused their parents of embezzling her father's money. The children will be the first beneficiaries of Blackstone Mouton's Last Best Hope Charity. Intrepid Ivy, who comes from a long line of scam artists, decides she and Ray must do surveillance and get the lay of the Nolands' grand but unwelcoming home. All sorts of amusing plans develop between the siblings, including making a clothesline intercom with Marietta's charm bracelet "borrowed" by Ivy. They also find a document that turns out to be the will of Blackstone Mouton II, who, unbeknownst to them, was their great grandfather. A mock trial ensues, complete with judge (Ivy), prosecutor (Ray), defendants (the Nolands), and witness for the prosecution (Veddy the chauffeur). The children get their folks freed from jail and, in the ultimate comeuppance, Marietta is employed as their maid. It's all great fun with lots of matter-of-fact, potboiler detective slang spoken by the children. Shepperson's drawings make the story even more amusing. This farcical, pseudo-Victorian drama of crime and punishment is sure to be a crowd pleaser.-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"No!" Ivy shouts in the courtroom when her parents are sentenced to 25 years in jail for embezzlement. Sure, they'd been to jail before, but never together, and never for so long. When Ivy and her younger brother Ray are sent to live with the very same rich septuagenarian couple who sent their parents "up the river," Ivy (a quick-study of her dad's shady dealings and of various courtroom dramas) decrees that they will spend their days scouring the sumptuous mansion for evidence that will acquit her parents. Left to their own devices, the siblings hide out in a rhododendron bush, sentence a fleet of international dolls to do time ("Ivy gave Miss Canada life"), and generally "case the joint." Ivy is as surprised as anyone when their obsessive hunt actually turns up evidence that forever changes everyone's fate. This funny, thoroughly entertaining change of pace for Coman seamlessly blends fantasy and reality in that wonderful way children can, and Shepperson's splendid, Quentin Blake-style illustrations further enliven an engaging story of espionage, family loyalty, and justice prevailing. (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Carolyn Coman is the author of What Jamie Saw, winner of a Newbery Honor, among other highly acclaimed novels. She lives in New Hampshire.

Rob Shepperson lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, with his wife and two daughters. His droll editorial drawings appear regularly in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He is also illustrator of David Harrison's Bugs and The Big House by Carolyn Coman.

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Big House 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well you can barely stand on your own two feet it seemed "puts the whip down"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A humorous, inventive story about perserverence and teamwork. A worthwhile read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First off the book is about ivy and ray trying to escape the mansion and free their parents from jail. they were sent to jail for embezzlement. the kids know they aren't guilty but since they have a bad reputation the court doesn't have much reason to believe them. the book was written pretty clearly and has a good mystery and good writing style. the author makes all the questions a reader normally has clear so you aren't confused when it ends. the story is a bit predictable because it's kind of obvious who the real criminal is. the children had to live with them for the time when their parents were in jail and they treated the children very badly. readers with deep thoughts would like this piece. it does keep you focused and it had a good hold on my attention. the name of the book raised questions for me but they were answered. i thought "The Big House" meant jail. in a way it sort of does. its the mansion where ivy and ray had to stay after parents were locked up. the owners aka the people who actually framed there parents made sure they were treated like it actually was a sort of prison. at one point ray was in "solitary confinement" by the laundry room. overall i thought this was a pretty good read with many twists and good points in it. more people should read The Big House by Carolyn Coman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gooooood Book! Kept my attention.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about Ivy and Ray's parents becoming guilty for embezzling thousands of dollars. Ivy and Ray go live off with Marietta and her husband, Lionel, in a LIMO. Marietta lives in a mansion (as you'll call it.) Marietta is cruel and naturally guilty.....
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is very good it shows a lot of amotion it was like i was in the book with the characters actually seeing what was happing because the description was so clear I would defenitly recomend this book to alll readers that have extreme thoughts and people that enjoy mystery books.If i could I would change the title thow it sounds a little boring and when I first saw it it defenitly did not catch my eye!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was reading this book for fun. It was completely great. It's perfect for people the age 8 and up. It was simply splendid. It's about two kids who have to live with their relative and try to find a way out of her big house but it isn't easy at all. This book is funny and adventurous together. Everyone definetly has to read it!