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The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys

4.4 58
by Lois Lowry

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Abandoned by their ill-humored parents to the care of an odious nanny, Tim, the twins, Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and their sister, Jane, attempt to fulfill their roles as good oldfashioned children. Following the models set in lauded tales from A Christmas Carol to Mary Poppins, the four Willoughbys hope to attain their proscribed happy ending too, or at least a


Abandoned by their ill-humored parents to the care of an odious nanny, Tim, the twins, Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and their sister, Jane, attempt to fulfill their roles as good oldfashioned children. Following the models set in lauded tales from A Christmas Carol to Mary Poppins, the four Willoughbys hope to attain their proscribed happy ending too, or at least a satisfyingly maudlin one. However, it is an unquestionably ruthless act that sets in motion the transformations that lead to their salvation and to happy endings for not only the four children, but their nanny, an abandoned baby, a candy magnate, and his long-lost son too. Replete with a tongue-in-cheek glossary and bibliography, this hilarious and decidedly old-fashioned parody pays playful homage to classic works of children’s literature.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This strange little novel is a take-off on famous "orphan" novels such as Pollyanna, Oliver, James and the Giant Peach, and Hansel and Gretel. It is about a family of four children, including the eldest Timothy, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and the youngest, Jane, and their parents. It is a twisted tale of parents ignoring their children and eventually trying to get rid of them, and children who dislike their parents so much that they wish they were orphans. The siblings are rather nasty to each other, (especially Timothy), but they stick together in their desire to rid themselves of their parents. The story involves the children finding a baby left on their doorstep and their parents refusing to take the baby in. The siblings then leave the baby on the doorstep of a miserly neighbor who lives in a rundown mansion. The baby changes the life of the neighbor, the parents go off on a round-the-world trip in an effort to rid themselves of their children, a nanny comes to take care of the children, and everyone's life changes for the better. It's Monty Python for children, with a dark side, so parents and teachers beware. References to other orphan stories appear in the text and may need some explanation for young readers. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
VOYA - Patti Sylvester Spencer
Who knew that this Newbery Award-winning author longed to follow in the footsteps of Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl? Her latest slip of a volume introduces four soon-to-be orphans-Timothy, twins A and B, and Jane-whose incompetent parents rival and then surpass Dahl's Matilda's. The children are mistreated; they in turn mistreat each other and a foundling infant. A nanny proves common-sensical and a wealthy inventor proves to be an ideal parent. The parody of old-fashioned storytelling is wonderfully farfetched, quite funny at times, and sporadically unsettling-the traditional recipe for compelling orphan drama. Lowry's own delightful pen-and-ink sketches introduce each of the twenty-one chapters and epilogue. Like Daniel Handler, she pushes reader vocabulary but with a heavier hand. A ten-page glossary (for words like lugubrious, malevolent, and obfuscate) seems to shift the tone of the novel with stereotypical examples and undercuts the general playfulness of the story. The glossary is uneven at best. Allusions and direct references to traditional orphan or orphan-like novels abound. Lowry includes a limited annotated bibliography to identify references as characters compare themselves and others to Ragged Dick, Pollyanna, or Mary Lennox. Perhaps once finished with this fast, fun read, some students will comb library shelves for really old-fashioned stories, sometimes inaccessible to contemporary, young middle schoolers. Reviewer: Patti Sylvester Spencer
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7- Timothy, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and Jane Willoughby live in an imposing Victorian house. Their uncaring parents would like to get rid of them, and the feeling is mutual. The adults go off on vacation, leaving the young Willoughbys in the care of a nanny, and try to sell the house in absentia. This leads to some of the more hilarious moments as prospective buyers arrive and the children disguise themselves as lamp shades and coat hangers. The day a baby is left on their doorstep, events are set in motion that bring about some desired changes and an "all's well that ends well" resolution. Lowry continually reminds readers that the characters and events in this story are meant to recall those found in "old fashioned" children's books, a bibliography of which she includes at the end. The plot is understandably dependent on coincidence, but the ultimate effect is to render the characters emotionally distant, leaving readers with little empathy for them. However, the glossary of terms such as "lugubrious" and "obsequious" at the end of the book is absolutely choice, and Lowry's cover and interior illustrations show that she has an entirely untapped talent. Children will enjoy the story's absurd humor while adults may be put off by its dark elements. Lowry is never afraid to expand her boundaries as a writer, and this book, even if somewhat flawed, belongs in most collections.-Tim Wadham, Maricopa County Library District, Phoenix, AZ

Kirkus Reviews
With this fey venture into kiddie Gothic, the august two-time Newbery winner and author of the beloved Anastasia Krupnik series proves that a writer can always reinvent herself. Lacing her narrative with references to classics from the hoariest corners of the canon, Lowry channels her inner Snicket to great effect. The Willoughby children-Timothy, Barnaby, Barnaby and Jane-do "the kinds of things that children in old-fashioned stories do." Sort of. When they find a baby abandoned on their doorstep, they re-abandon her on a neighbor's doorstep. And when they realize that their parents want to get rid of them, too, they develop a plan to do away with them first. Abetted by their Nanny (who is "not one bit like that fly-by-night [Mary Poppins]") and taking inspiration from their storybooks, they thwart their parents' plans and, via a series of increasingly absurd plot twists, find themselves happily rid of their ghastly parents and reunited with the once-abandoned baby. Readers who are willing to give themselves up entirely to the sly foolishness will relish this sparklingly smart satire, which treats them with collegial familiarity. (snort-inducing glossary) (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher

"The tone of this darkly dry pastiche is consistently witty, and it's chock-full of accessible parodic references to...classic children's texts...Lowry crafts a tidy plot."--The Bulletin, starred review

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
790L (what's this?)
File size:
8 MB
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

Nanny and the Willoughbys were out for a walk.
This was something that old-fashioned families did from time to time, to expose themselves to invigorating fresh air. Nanny had donned her blue cape, which was the official uniform for nannies.
“Walk briskly, children,” said Nanny, “and swing your arms.” They did so.
“Skip, if you like,” Nanny said. “Skipping is very healthful.” “What is skipping?” Jane asked.
“Yes, what is skipping?” asked the twins.
“It’s like this, dolts,”Tim told them, and he skipped ahead of them to demonstrate.
“No more saying of the word dolt,” Nanny announced.“I dislike it.” “What about dodo?” Jane asked.
“Well, let’s allow dodo for now,” Nanny said after thinking it over. “If someone does something really stupid, it is permissible to call that person a dodo.
“And,” she added, looking at Tim, who had returned, “if you think that was skipping, you are a dodo.This is skipping.” She demonstrated, skipping to the corner of the block with her cape flying behind her. She turned and beckoned to the children, and each of them skipped toward her one by one. Nanny gave some further instructions—a little more left foot,Tim; no timidity, go flat out, A; good job, much better than before, B; and a pat on the back for Jane, who stumbled and skinned her knee but was heroically not crying.
Now, having walked for several blocks and skipped for the last one, the children found that they were on a familiar street.They had not been back to this street since the day they had trudged here hauling a wagon containing a basket with a baby in it. Tim nudged Barnaby A and nodded meaningfully toward the mansion that loomed ahead. Both of the twins gave nervous glances but then looked away and concentrated on remarks about the quality of the asphalt in the street and a particularly odd-shaped cloud in the sky. Jane fell silent and had a sad look. She had liked the baby, actually, though when its hair was cropped she had found it homely. From time to time she had missed it and wondered about it.
Nanny skipped ahead, not noticing that a hush had fallen upon the children.
“The windows are repaired,” Barnaby B pointed out in a whisper.
“And the cat has been fed,” his twin noticed. “It was thin before, but now it’s pudgy.” “Someone has mowed the lawn,”Tim observed.
“Shhhh,” said Jane suddenly. “I hear a giggle.” They stood still, the four of them, and after a moment Nanny returned. She had skipped the entire length of the block, assuming the children were behind her. Now she came back to see why they had stopped. “The important thing in terms of fresh-air intake,” Nanny said to them, “is continuity!
If you stop, you lose your continuity.Why ever are you standing about like dodos? You are breathing stagnant air.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"The tone of this darkly dry pastiche is consistently witty, and it's chock-full of accessible parodic references to...classic children's texts...Lowry crafts a tidy plot."—The Bulletin, starred review

Meet the Author

Lois Lowry is the author of more than thirty books for young adults, including the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. She has received countless honors, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award. She received Newbery Medals for two of her novels, NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER. Her first novel, A SUMMER TO DIE, was awarded the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award. Ms. Lowry now divides her time between Cambridge and an 1840s farmhouse in Maine. To learn more about Lois Lowry, see her website at www.loislowry.com or follow her on Twitter @LiosLowryWriter.

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Willoughbys 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
Dong Wook Kim More than 1 year ago
This is the only funny book Lois Lowry ever wrote, and she does not disappoint. Filled with witty humor, quirky characters, and a great plot, this is a must read for all ages!
Novel_Teen_Book_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Review by Jill Williamson The four Willoughby children live with parents so wicked, they feel they would be better off as orphans. They seek a way to get rid of their parents, not knowing that their parents are formulating their own diabolical plan inspired by the story Hansel and Gretel: abandon the children. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby put their house up for sale, hire a level-headed Nanny, and take off on an endless vacation. As the children plot and plan, Nanny takes good care of them. But there is more to the story than the Willoughbys. With a candy bar tycoon, an obsequious postmaster, two more winsome orphans, a number of references to classic children's stories, and a thorough glossary at the end for all the new vocabulary words, this amusing parody is sure to bring a smile to the reader's face. Award-winning author Lois Lowry spins an old-fashioned parody tale reminiscent of terrible situations that befall characters from Grimm fairy tales. This book is entertaining. The plot is a bit depressing with the Willoughby family in such a mess. The eldest son is a bit ruthless, but Nanny tries to teach all the children some values. She does admit, however, that their parents are truly dolts and that she, herself, is a Presbyterian. This book is harmless satirical fun, mocking fairy tales and classic stories in just about every way. All turns out well in the end for everyone but the evil parents.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a mix of funny and old fashion life. In this book the parents don't want the kids and the kids don't want the parents. This book is good for 8-11 year old age group.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was full of lafs and hillariously funny words and phrases. I enjoyed it because it showed what kids can do if not suporvised and parents who dont care that much about their kids. LOVED IT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I dont know why, but this book made me feel cold inside. It was a little sad and strange. Unfotunately, i would not recommend this book. But only in my opinion, others could feel different about this book. I also felt as if the ending was to sudden.
Ashley_Collett_Teacher More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a futuristic thriller like "The Giver"(2002) or a historical drama like "Number the Stars," (1998) then the new Louis Lowry book is not for you. However, if you are looking for a funny, adventured filled book with unforgettable characters then you must read "The Willoughbys" (2008). The story begins by describing the Willoughby family, which consists of four children. Tim, the oldest, is the bossy, leader of the group. All of the children listen attentively to Tim, who is always right. Then there are the twins, Barnaby and Barnaby (referred to as A and B to avoid confusion), who constantly beg their mother for another sweater, so that they do not have to share one. Finally, there is Jane. Jane is often overlooked and is constantly being called a dough-dough by her brother Tim. An interesting fact about the Willoughby family is that the children long to be like the characters in their favorite books, which all happen to be orphans.the only thing that stands in their way is their parents. The children's parents also want to rid themselves of their children, who are either too bossy, too demanding, or who they cannot remember their name. Both sides get their wish whenever the parents decide to go on an extended vacation and hire the children a nanny. Once the nanny is hired, the parents split the scene and put the house up for sale. The children are thrilled because they are on their way to being orphans. The group then begins on their adventure that includes posing as furniture to ward off potential buyers, learning about an old candy maker neighbor, and developing new relationships with their loveable nanny, an orphaned baby, and a long lost son. This book is a great piece of literature for many reasons. First, Lowry showcases her knowledge of classic children's literature by incorporating everything from "Mary Poppins" to "Huckleberry Finn" into the tale of these orphans. Also, Lowry does a great job weaving into this book various different plots and characters. Throughout the story, Lowry changes from telling about the Willoughby family in one chapter, to talking about what is going on with the candy maker and his orphaned baby as well as a Swiss postal worker, the love of his life, and her fatherless son. Gradually these three separate stories begin to tie together and eventually become one with a very surprising ending! The Willoughbys is a wonderful book that is full of allusions to children's literature and is rich in advanced vocabulary. For these reasons, I recommend this book for grades 4-5, since the vocabulary is at a higher level and readers need to be familiar with classic children's stories in order to truly appreciate their use in the story. I think that this book would be suitable for a read aloud, since it incorporates several stories into one and can be confusing if read independently. When discussing the literary qualities of this book, character and plot are two that are very well utilized. The characters in this book are very colorful, round, and dynamic. In addition, the different stories that are taking place all at once give students great practice with dealing with episodic plot. Overall, "The Willoughbys" is a wonderful book that shows a new side to the award-winning author. I think that it is a great addition to bookshelves and libraries everywhere!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I keep on reading it agin and agin! : )
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book i read it twice and each time i couldn't stop reading. End was better than i thought it would be! Very good book with interesting vocabulary. Lois Lowry never disappoints
linda xu More than 1 year ago
i luv this book
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
"The Willoughbys" is a delightful children's book which takes all of our accepted mores and turns them inside out! It is a spoof on life which lets us laugh at ourselves. It is a combination of The Sound of Music, Pippi Longstocking and Hansel and Gretel, all rolled into one. Instead of a happy home with a warm hearth and nourishing meals, the Willoughby children live in a home in which selfish parents dote on themselves instead of their children. The children tease each other with the older preying on the weaker younger ones. Their parents dislike them and they dislike their parents. They hatch a plan to get rid of their parents even as their parents decide to take a trip, sell their home and abandon the children. Their are many unusual adventures and mishaps. A baby is found on their doorstep and the mother doesn't want it so the children deposit it on the doorstep of a mansion. The parent's behavior is less than stellar. The grieving owner of the mansion finds that the child breathes new life into his own sad existence so it turns into an opportunity rather than a burden. A nanny is engaged by the Willoughby parents without checking her qualifications but she turns out to be better at taking care of the children and the home than they were. Although the concepts in the book deal with abandonment, dysfunctional families, danger and death, there is a happy ending, but it comes about in the strangest of ways. The book covers many negative concepts with a gentle humor, which makes them more acceptable. There is a comical glossary at the end of the book to help explain some of the more difficult words used. Although it is recommended for ages 8-12, it might be more appropriate to read it aloud with a child so that difficult concepts that are trivialized, can be better explained.
skaterMB More than 1 year ago
I think the Willoughbys was an interesting , but slow book . The story didn't have any "real action". The first part of the book was okay, but I thought it took a long time to introduce the characters. The whole book was basically about a family of four children who wanted to become orphans and whose parents didn't want them anymore. I think this book would be great for sixth graders because it has some fairly challenging terms that are described in the glossary in the back of the book. Overall, I think the Willoughbys was a pretty good book, but it could have had a more intense plot line to intrigue the reader. The Willoughbys live a normal, old fashioned life. They aren't happy with how their lives are going, living with their parents. As a result, a discussion comes up about what it would be like if they were orphans. Their parents want to be rid of them, so they decide to take a "trip". To be absolutely sure that they will never see their kids again, they hire a nanny and put the house for sale. Even though they're told not to be present during open houses, the Willoughby kids find sneaky ways to be present during viewings. They hold up certain signs that send people running out of the house. In the middle of all this action, a baby shows up at the Willoubhy's door. They set the baby on the steps of a giant mansion. Part of the book tells the story of the old man's life who lives in the mansion. In the end, all of these events are tied together in a fantastic story ending. The whole book is based around the quote, "We should have been orphans". The Willoughby children basically have an orphan experience in a roundabout way by the end of the book. Several chapters go into detail about what it is like for the Willoughbys to be orphans. Surprisingly, the book eventually gets to the point , which was to describe what happened to the Willoughby children. Although the book definitely could have been more action packed, everything else was written extremely well. If you're looking for a quick, easy read, definitely pick up a copy of The Willoughbys. You'll enjoy the ending of the story because it's a surprise.
Reads_a_lot More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was so funny, and light-hearted. It is a great book for any person, young or old, who simply needs a good laugh and a relaxing read.
SJKessel More than 1 year ago
Lowry, L. (2008). The Willoughbys. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 9780618979745 Lois Lowry, made famous for her explorations of distopias and historic moments in The Giver (1993) and Number the Stars (1998), went in a more humorous direction with The Willoughbys. I had wanted to say 'a lighter direction,' but alas, that would be mistaken. The plot features a family of four children attempting to rid themselves of their parents so they may become orphans. Don't feel too bad for the parents though, they are also looking to be rid of their sons and daughter. While the lack of sympathy and sentimentality among the characters may shock a few, it will likely amuse most. The Willoughbys includes reference after reference to classic or 'old-fashioned' children's literature in what feels like an extensive running gag. A well-written running gag. If a teacher were to choose to share it with students, he or she would have to be careful of the expectation of prior knowledge on the part of the reader as well as some of the jabs that could be viewed as marginally offensive to the French or Presbyterians. While the book includes humorous appendices of both the book's vocabulary and references, few young readers would probably actually use it. On the plus side, even if the students don't initially know what stories The Willoughby characters are referencing, I have no doubt it was Lowry's goal that students might seek out some of those books after finishing her novel. I couldn't help but notice a slight-tiny-itty-bitty mistake with the narrative. The plot takes up several strands of narratives (which a teacher might have to provide support for anyway). The main plot takes place over several days, while weaving with another subplot that takes place over one afternoon (unless the reader is expected to believe a baby remained unattended and unfed on the porch of a mansion for several days). However, few will probably notice this discrepancy in the chronology of the narrative. I must admit I didn't notice it until I was reading the book for the third time. Activities to do with the book: This would be a great book to use as a class read aloud. Students would no doubt be entertained by their teacher's attempts at speaking faux-German. Plus this way the teacher could pause over vocabulary words, over characters mentioned and described from different perspectives and over references to classic children's literature and encourage students to read those books. (There are enough books referenced that each student could probably be assigned to read one and report to the class about the plot) The Willoughbys also would lend itself to enacting some parts of the narrative to help students visualize the scenes. Favorite Quotes: "Barnaby and Barnaby were ten-year-old twins. No one could tell them apart, and it was even more confusing because they had the same name; so they were known as Barnaby A and Barnaby B. Most people, including their parents, shortened this to A and B, and many were unaware that the twins even had names" (p. 11). "Their lives proceeded in exactly the way lives proceeded in old-fashioned stories. One day they even found a baby on their doorstep" (p. 13). "Shouldn't we be orphans?" Barnaby B asked" (p. 28). For more of my reviews, visit sjkessel.blogspot.com.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Lois Lowry, winner of two Newbery medals, is not only one of the most beloved modern authors of children's fiction, but also one of the most versatile. She's done comedy (the ANASTASIA KRUPNIK series), drama (A DUMMER TO DIE), historical fiction (NUMBER THE STARS), and even dystopian fantasy (THE GIVER). In her latest book, THE WILLOUGHBYS, she proves her mastery at yet another genre: parody.

The object of parody here is old-fashioned children's books. Accordingly, the titular Willoughbys are ¿an old-fashioned family,¿ and constantly refer to themselves as such. The Willoughby children are Timothy, the bossy oldest child; indistinguishable twins who are both named Barnaby (referred to as ¿A¿ and ¿B¿); and the overlooked youngest child, Jane.

¿Shouldn't we be orphans?¿ Timothy asks one day. While they're not, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, unbeknownst to them, are about to abandon their children in a plot inspired by HANSEL AND GRETEL. But the Willoughby children are too busy doing all the things that an old-fashioned family should do to care very much. All the elements of old-fashioned children's literature are included in the plot. Abandoned baby in a basket? Check. Mysterious nanny? Check. Reclusive tycoon living in squalor? Check. Really bad fake German? Well¿that might be a new one.

It's impressive how effectively Lowry pokes fun at literary clichés so widespread that most of us have never even thought about them. It had never occurred to me how prevalent some of the elements of classic children's literature are until I read THE WILLOUGHBYS, but once it did, I wondered why I'd never read a similar parody. Lowry gets plenty of jokes in while still keeping the plot moving, and the result is a fast, funny read. Adding to the fun are the glossary and bibliography at the end of the book. Here's a sample glossary entry: ¿Tycoon means somebody who has amassed great wealth and power in business. Usually a tycoon is a man, for some reason. Maybe Oprah Winfrey is a tycooness.¿ The bibliography consists of a list of ¿books of the past that are heavy on piteous but appealing orphans, ill-tempered and stingy relatives, magnanimous benefactors, and transformations wrought by winsome children,¿ which include MARY POPPINS, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and the BOBBSEY TWINS series.

While teens and adults will also find this book hilarious, it's appropriate for even those younger readers in elementary school. Readers will laugh out loud¿¿"and they might even be moved to pick up one of the books that inspired it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love he book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started this book and couldn't put it back down again! If anything is wrong with this book it's that it's TOO well writen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol halarious
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing! MUST READ!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is hilarious ad everyone should read it!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book its great for my kids and even my one year old likes it when i read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My family and i have listened to this book on tape countless times on long car rides, and every time we are doubling over in laughter. I love how they are an "old fashioned family" and the way thay act and think about situations over fresh-baked lemo n soufle is hillarious. My favorite characters are Ruth, a baby who the Willoughby's found on their doorstep and who becomes the adopted daughter of Count Melanough, Tim, an old fashioned boy with a heart of gold hidden by bossiness who later marries Ruth, A and B, twin boys tjat not even their parents can tell apart, and Jane, who thinks that every name, even a girl's, should have three sillables. I adore this vook and if you haven't read it yet, you should.