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William S. and the Great Escape

William S. and the Great Escape

4.1 7
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Twelve-year-old William S. Baggett is one of eight Baggett children, and he is ready to escape his negligent family. Since his very first day of school in 1931, he has been saving up money to run away. That’s exactly what he does—along with three of his younger siblings—after his older brothers flush a pet guinea pig down the toilet. The four


Twelve-year-old William S. Baggett is one of eight Baggett children, and he is ready to escape his negligent family. Since his very first day of school in 1931, he has been saving up money to run away. That’s exactly what he does—along with three of his younger siblings—after his older brothers flush a pet guinea pig down the toilet. The four children are headed to their aunt Fiona’s house, but the trip doesn’t go exactly as planned—especially when a lonely rich girl decides to “help” them. Will they ever make it to Aunt Fiona’s? And if they do, will she let them stay?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
William S. Baggett, the skinny 12-year-old hero of this engaging Depression-era story, plans to use his “Getaway Fund” to escape, someday, from his lazy, vicious father and older half-siblings. Meanwhile, William hides from the chaotic, violent Baggett household in a stifling attic nook of their condemned farmhouse, reading Shakespeare and dreaming of the stage (unbeknownst to his family, William played Ariel in a high school production of The Tempest to rave reviews). Escape becomes urgent after his bullying half-brothers flush his sister Jancy’s guinea pig down the toilet. William, Jancy and their younger siblings, Trixie and Buddy, flee, aiming for their Aunt Fiona’s home several towns away. Throughout their nerve-racking journey, William relies on the Bard to calm and entertain the younger Baggetts, acting out scenes and reciting lines from The Tempest. The children’s happy reunion with their aunt proves short-lived when their father appears to claim them, though things eventually work out for the beleaguered children. Wit and pluck are rewarded in this quick-paced, high-drama adventure, which may also whet young appetites for Shakespeare. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Cherie Ilg Haas
Saving up as much money as he can, young William makes his run-away plans, secretly waiting for just the right moment to escape his horrible father, violent older siblings, and disinterested step-mother. Yet the decision to actually leave comes not from him, but from his younger sister, who cannot take another day in their house after her guinea pig gets flushed down the toilet. Bravely, they make plans to rescue themselves and their two younger siblings by running away and catching a bus to their loving aunt's house, 100 miles away. Older and/or more educated readers will also appreciate the Shakespearean references throughout, as our very own William is a dedicated fan. This novel is set in 1938, a time when a story like this could very possibly have happened. The characters themselves are even lifelike, with strong voices and convincing individualities. These things and more make this book realistic, and hard to put down. Reviewer: Cherie Ilg Haas
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Twelve-year-old William S. Baggett always knew he'd run away from his abusive family someday, but when his older brothers flush his sister's guinea pig down the toilet, she insists it has to be right now and that she and their two younger siblings must go, too. Their destination is the home of their dead mother's sister, but escaping undetected from their small California town is fraught with complications. They are both helped and delayed by the intervention of a lonely rich girl, Clarice, who recognizes and admires William from his school performance as Ariel in The Tempest Eventually they manage to make the bus journey to Aunt Fiona's seaside town and are welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, the children are discovered and returned to their cruel father, until Clarice steps in to save the day. William's love of Shakespeare is woven into the story and his acting out The Tempest to keep the children occupied is both a highlight of the story and an accessible introduction to the play. Character development is satisfying, and the 1938 setting is ably conveyed through references to Roosevelt's welfare program, pick-up sticks, and 25-cent hamburgers, but some anachronisms of language ("biological parents," "get their act together") mar the sense of the times. An old-fashioned bold typeface, used throughout for all quotes from and references to Shakespeare, is jarring and does not serve the story, and Clarice as deus ex machina strains belief, but this is, nevertheless, an engrossing read.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
Kirkus Reviews
In this poignant adventure story, Jancy, William and their young siblings Trixie and Buddy decide to run away from the abusive home of their father and stepmother. They head for their mother's sister in hopes of being taken in. The kids are ultimately welcomed by their aunt, but the sweet reunion is likely to be short-lived, since their father wants to haul them back home so that he can collect as much "New Deal" money as possible. While the father remains a looming threat, Snyder lightens the potentially tragic feel of this tale by keeping the focus on the children's hope for a better future, the adventures that befall them on their journey and, particularly, on William's budding acting skills and devotion to Shakespeare. This latter element feels a little forced and probably won't compel readers to join William in his devotion to the Bard. Nonetheless, it works thematically and will likely prompt readers to think about the connection between William's history and his attraction to the transformative world of the theater. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


His birth certificate, if he even had one, probably just said Willy Baggett, but for most of the seventh grade he’d been signing his school papers William S. Baggett.

William S. Baggett

But that, too, would change as soon as he made his move. No more Baggett then—and good riddance.

Actually, he’d started thinking about running away almost seven years ago. That was when he’d started going to school and began to learn, among other things, that not everybody behaved like Baggetts. And not very long after that he began putting every penny he could get his hands on into what he thought of as his Getaway Fund. Well, not quite every penny. He did spend a dime, now and then, on a Saturday matinee at the Roxie Theater. Watching how your favorite movie actors could make you believe they were all those different people was one thing he’d never been able to do without.

In spite of an occasional movie, his secret stash had grown pretty fast while the Baggetts still lived in the city, where there were lots of lawns to mow and flower gardens to water and weed. And even after they had to get out of town, he’d managed to add a few coins now and then by doing odd jobs at school—carrying stuff for teachers, and mopping up on rainy days for Mr. Jenkins, the janitor.

He’d made other plans and preparations too. Besides saving his earnings, he began to keep a long, narrow knapsack beside his bed, and all his most important belongings right there within arm’s reach, ready to push into it. And then, someday, he would take his Getaway Fund out of its supersecret, hard-to-reach hiding place, sling his knapsack over his shoulder, and simply walk away. And that would be that.

But what then? Where would he run to? Over the years he’d changed his mind a lot, but just recently he’d come up with some interesting possibilities. Like, how about Hollywood? Or Broadway in New York City? Or even better, Stratford-upon-Avon. Okay, not likely. But, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Right?

He never told anyone, of course. Not even Jancy, at least not until after she’d pretty much guessed. But the little bit Jancy knew didn’t worry him that much. His sister would never do anything to ruin his future career. He was sure of that. Well, he had been sure anyway, until the day her guinea pig got flushed down the toilet, which not only messed up the plumbing, but apparently changed everything.

Sweetie Pie had been Jancy’s pet ever since her fourth-grade teacher got tired of a health class experiment that involved feeding some guinea pigs fruits and vegetables, and some others nothing but candy and cookies. Sweetie Pie had been one of the stunted sweet-stuff pigs, and she never quite made it to normal guinea pig size. Not even after Jancy went to the trouble to clear off a stretch of cluttered, weed-grown land to plant a vegetable garden. She did manage to grow a little bit of healthy stuff for Sweetie Pie, and she would have grown a lot more if Gary and the twins hadn’t decided to use her garden plot as one end of their football field.

Even though Sweetie Pie never got much bigger, she was, according to Jancy, the smartest, cutest guinea pig that ever lived. But then came the first of August, 1938, and Sweetie Pie’s story came to a sad end.

William found out about it soon after it happened, when he overheard the twins snickering outside the bathroom door. What he heard them saying was how they’d managed to “get rid of that stinkin’ rat, and let Buddy take the rap.”

William wanted to pound on the door and yell at them—not that that would have accomplished anything, except getting himself beaten to a pulp. Besides being extra big for fourteen-year-olds, Al and Andy were extra vicious. So William bit his lip and went looking for Jancy.

For a while he couldn’t find her anywhere. Not in the room she shared with Trixie and Buddy, and not anywhere else in the big old wreck of a house. Not hiding behind any of the junkyard furniture in what might once have been a pretty nice living room, or out on the halfway collapsed veranda, either. But then, as he was checking the back hall, there she was, walking toward her room with her mop of hair hiding her face as usual. But when she saw him, she put her finger in her ear—their secret signal that asked for a talk in their private hideout.

Okay, fine. No amount of talk was going to do poor Sweetie Pie any good at that point, but William knew how Jancy must be feeling, and if talking would help, he was ready to listen. Ready and willing, even though it meant making a feverish (hay feverish, that is) trip to the barn—the huge, saggy-roofed building that sat about fifty yards from the condemned farmhouse where the Baggetts had been hanging out ever since they got more or less kicked out of downtown Crownfield.

Nowadays the barn was a kind of junkyard where all the Baggetts who were old enough to drive—not to mention the ones who drove even though they weren’t old enough—had stashed the body parts of a whole lot of dead hot rods, pickup trucks, and motorcycles. Down there on the ground floor the scene was nothing but rusty carcasses, but up above the car cemetery there was a secret place that nobody seemed to know about except William and Jancy. A deserted area that must have been a hayloft back in the days when the huge old building had been a cow barn instead of a car dump.

So a moldy hayloft had become their favorite place to have a really private conversation, in spite of what it always did to William’s hay fever. He didn’t mind that much about the hay fever thing. Being forced to choose between being teased and tormented or having hay fever wasn’t nearly the worst thing about being at the bottom of the Baggett pecking order.

On the plus side, the loft was fairly handy. All it took was a well-timed scamper across the cluttered yard to the barn door. And then a careful zigzag around and over fractured fenders and rusty radiators until you got to a narrow ladder that led up to a place where you could scrunch down behind a big pile of moldy hay and be fairly sure none of the bigger Baggetts would show up.

Up behind the haystack, in between William’s sneezing and sniffing fits, he and Jancy had now and then managed to come up with the kind of plans that were necessary in order to survive as comparatively small and defenseless Baggetts. Plans like how to discourage Gary from throwing your books off the bus on the way to school, or where to hide your most precious possessions where Al and Andy couldn’t get at them. So it was up there in the hayloft that William was waiting when Jancy’s curly head and red, weepy eyes appeared over the edge of the loft floor.

The weepy eyes were no surprise. But what he certainly hadn’t foreseen was how the conversation began. The very first words out of Jancy’s mouth were, “Look here, William, I know you’re getting ready to run away. You are, aren’t you?”

Puzzled, William shrugged. “Well, yeah, I guess so. Sooner or later. Why?”

He was still wondering what his plans for the future had to do with the sad fate of Sweetie Pie, when Jancy cleared that up by explaining that she had decided that what happened to Sweetie Pie was the last straw.

“I’m just plain finished with being a Baggett,” she told William fiercely. “So I’m going to run away too, as soon as ever I can.”

William was shocked. “What are you talking about?” he said. “You’re only eleven years old. A little kid like you can’t just take off all by yourself.”

Jancy threw up her hands. “Listen to me, William,” she said. “I didn’t mean all by myself. I said too. Like, with you. And it has to be real soon. Like maybe tomorrow. Don’t you get it?”

William got it, but he didn’t like it. However, he knew from experience that when Jancy really made her mind up about certain kinds of things that was pretty much it—not much use to argue. But he kept trying.

“But the problem is,” he insisted, “I’m not ready yet. Look at me, Jancy. I’m just a kid.” He shrugged and screwed up his face in the kind of lopsided smile that an actor uses to show he’s joking—mostly joking, anyway. “Well okay, a supersmart and talented person, maybe, but still just a twelve-year-old kid.” He was kidding, but not entirely. He was pretty smart, all right. No Baggett, not even the ones who put him down as a smart aleck and teacher’s pet, could deny that.

And as for talented? Well, according to Miss Scott … But that was another story. The only story he had to come up with right now was one that would keep Jancy from running away. At least for a few more years.

“The kind of help you’d need for a successful getaway,” he told her, “is somebody with a lot more than just smarts. Like, what you’re going to need is some big, musclebound type guy.”

Trying for a laugh—Jancy usually liked comedy—he stuck out his skinny chest and flexed invisible muscles.

No laugh. Jancy listened, squinty eyed and silent. He sighed. Even though she’d known about his running-away plan for a long time, she also knew, or should have, that he’d always seen it as something that was going to happen in the fairly distant future. And now, suddenly, it was like right this minute?

Things were moving way too fast. It wasn’t more than an hour since the Sweetie Pie tragedy, and now Jancy was jumping the gun by announcing that she’d never been cut out to be a Baggett, and she was going to prove it by running away.

“Okay. Running away to where?” William asked. “Where you planning to go?”

Jancy raised her head and jutted her small pointed chin. “To Gold Beach,” she said firmly. “I’m going to go to Gold Beach to live with our aunt Fiona.”

William shook his head doubtfully. “I wouldn’t count on it,” he said. Fiona Hardison, their mother’s sister, was a schoolteacher who lived in a little town on the northern California coast. A woman whom William and Jancy had met only once, right after their mother died, and that was four long years ago. “What makes you think Aunt Fiona would let you live with her?” William asked.

“Oh, she will,” Jancy said. “She’ll be so happy to get Trixie and Buddy back, she’ll be glad to have you and me, too.”

And that was how Jancy finally got around to mentioning an important minor detail. Not only would William and Jancy be running away together—they were going to be taking Trixie and Buddy with them.

© 2009 Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Meet the Author

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is the author of The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid, and The Witches of Worm, all Newbery Honor Books. Her most recent books include The Treasures of Weatherby, The Bronze Pen, William S. and the Great Escape, and William’s Midsummer Dreams. She lives in Mill Valley, California. Visit her at ZKSnyder.com.

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William S. and the Great Escape 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
William S. Baggett doesn't plan on being a Baggett for much longer. He's been scrimping and saving and soon he's going to run away. Turns out soon comes a lot faster than William expected. And with a lot more problems. Being a Baggett, especially a little Baggett, isn't easy at the best of times. But when Jancy's pet guinea pig is flushed down the toilet by two older Baggetts she knows it's time to leave. William knows too. Even if he would have liked more time to plan and save and, well, get older than twelve. All of a sudden William, Jancy and the two smallest Baggetts are making their escape to find their aunt Fiona's house and maybe someone who will actually care about them and welcome them. At least, they hope. But it turns out running away is harder than William thought, especially with two little kids in tow. Getting some help from a lonely rich girl might be a big help. Or it might spell disaster for all of their non-Baggett plans in William S. and the Great Escape (2009) by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. William S. and the Great Escape is an interesting combination of runaway story set in 1938 and excerpts from Shakespeare* (William is a big fan of . . . that other William) as William tries to entertain his younger siblings. Snyder is no stranger to building suspense. The story is fraught with tension as the youngest Baggetts (and the reader) wonder if they will make it to Aunt Fiona's and, more importantly, if she will let them stay. Are the Baggett's problems at home over the top? Is the plot improbable? Perhaps. But that's kind of the point. Snyder puts together a little bit of the historical, a little bit of the dramatic, and a lot of humor and charm in this book to create a story that is pure fun and pure escapism for any reader. *All of the quotes and Shakespeare related matters are set in an Old English style font so that they stand out. And may or may not be easier to skip if the reader is more interested in young William S. than in William Shakespeare. Possible Pairings: The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood, The Secret Garden by France Hodgson Burnett, You Don't Know Me by David Klass, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Holes by Louis Sachar, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Keith Nuttbrock More than 1 year ago
This book is really good!!!!!! It is about a kid whose family stinks and he runs away. Along the way he meets some friends and some foes. Over all this was a great book except the end was a little rushed but the whole book was really good!
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Lexi Ari More than 1 year ago
Not sure.......