What You Need to Know:|
• Although very different from her other books, Lois Lowry always seems to deliver a story that makes us think.
• There are many references to other literary works.
• Your reader will find great vocabulary words throughout and a funny glossary in the back.
• There are several references to death, including the kids hoping to get rid of their parents in a terrible accident, but
all in a humorous way.
• The kids – and adults too, actually – can be quite nasty to each other.
• Readers shouldn’t take the characters or events in this parody too seriously.
Lois Lowry’s clever parody of an “old-fashioned” family will entertain young readers, as long as they know what they’re getting into when they open this book. The kids want to get rid of their parents, the parents try to ditch their kids, babies are abandoned and an exaggerated rudeness is commonplace. The Willoughby parents are “irascible” and “indolent” and not too happy about having to care for their four children. The kids, in turn, decide that they would fare better as orphans, as that seems to have been the case in many “old fashioned” stories so they plot to kill off their parents. They encourage their parents to set off on an adventurous trip and secretly hope for a fatal accident. The parents, in keeping with their wicked ways, hire a nanny and leave without so much as a wave goodbye. Before their parents leave, the Willoughby children find a baby on their doorstep and when they tell their mother, she instructs them to get rid of it. She’s the same woman who is described as having once read a book but found it “distasteful” because it had adjectives – I’m still laughing at this thought, especially since Lowry clearly loves them! The children leave the baby with a local tycoon who, while extremely wealthy, is currently living a shabby existence as he mourns the loss of his wife and child. The story of these two families, and how their lives collide, will take readers on an interesting journey of their own.
Everything about these characters and their lives is an exaggeration, a world turned upside down from what is normally expected, and they should not be taken too seriously. So, when Lowry writes that it didn’t matter if the pilot died because he was Presbyterian or that some travelers were eaten by crocodiles because they were French, we should laugh and not be offended. When she mocks it is meant to be funny not imitated. Readers should also be able to handle plenty of details about events and people, as well as a variety of challenging vocabulary. Lowry does offer a helping hand with the not-so-ordinary glossary provided at the back. It is so engaging that it made me think that Lowry should really write her own version of the dictionary. Children would definitely enjoy learning words using her definitions and may even be more likely to remember their meanings. While it did get a little predictable, it remains a unique introduction to a humorous style of writing that may even encourage readers to look more critically and observantly at the world around them.
2008, 176 pages
Books & Reading, Family Life, Humor, Siblings
• Are the characters in this book like anyone you know in real life?
• Are the Willoughby children likable?
• Do you have a favorite new word you learned from reading this book?
• When and where do you think the story took place?
• Were you inspired to read any of the other books that Lowry mentions?
• Why are the Willoughby parents so reprehensible?
• How do you feel about kids trying to get rid of their parents and vice versa?
• Do you think there are real parents and kids that would like to leave their families behind?
• Did you think that the story was predictable? If so, which parts?
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