The Willoughbys
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The Willoughbys

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  6,877 ratings  ·  1,395 reviews
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 satisfyingl...more
Hardcover, 174 pages
Published March 31st 2008 by HMH Books for Young Readers
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As in all good old-fashioned stories, this one involves the four Willoughby children. There is Tim, the oldest, who is very bossy. Jane is the youngest and has a hard time sticking up for herself. And then there are the twins A and B. The children are essentially good kids, but their parents are the worst sorts. Negligent and wasteful, they concoct a plan to leave on vacation and sell their house while they're gone (hopefully ridding themselves of the children in the meantime). To the young Will...more
As a scholar of 18th and 19th century children's literature, I was immediately drawn to a book purporting to be a parody of "old fashioned" books. But I was unimpressed by Lowry's actual novel. Perhaps because I had in mind a definition of parody that means something beyond just a "funny" imitation; most parodies are written to ridicule or satirize the genre they imitate. Lowry's book doesn't imitate to critique, or to satirize. Or perhaps it is because Lowry's idea of "old fashioned book" is ju...more
Dec 21, 2011 Daisy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lavender, Arpeggio, Noxzema
Recommended to Daisy by: Muphyn
This is one of the best things I've read all year. It is my new favorite book. So smart and funny, I read it with--I swear--a real smile on my face the entire time AND I laughed out loud. That might have had something to do with the small kitten I have who fell asleep upside down on my shoulder while I was reading it but not entirely. I want to own this book (mine came from the library) and to give it to everyone I know, especially any children I know. Hmm...
I was hooked when I read the author'...more
What an odd little book. The Willoughbys is a sort of parody of "old fashioned" children's books. The children are hoping that their parents will be killed in a dangerous around the world trip, and the parents are hoping to sell the home out from under the children and have them cast out into the street before they return. There's also an abandoned baby, a wealthy benefactor, and a nanny who whips the children into shape.

It's impossible to read this book without comparing it to Lemony Snicket an...more
Clare Cannon
Jun 24, 2010 Clare Cannon rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: 10-12 years (mature readers)
Shelves: 08-12yrs
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Author Lois Lowry who gave us Number the Stars, The Giver, A Summer to Die and 30 + other children's stories has now given us The Willoughbys, a clever, tongue in cheek parody of "old fashioned" classic children's stories.
I loved the tag line for this book as soon as I saw it on the cover. "A novel nefariously written & ignominiously illustrated by the author." If that does not hook your attention then maybe the book description will: " 'Shouldn't we be orphans?' one of the Willoughby childr...more
Marjorie Hakala
I remember being told, perhaps six or seven years ago, that Europeans considered America to have no proper sense of irony. Things have changed since then to such an extent that our even our eight-year-olds can understand a well-aimed dry parody. Or at least I hope so, because otherwise there will be no audience for this remarkable little book. Lois Lowry, a master of children's literature in deadly earnest ( The Giver frightened me to death, and remembering it still does) has produced The Willou...more
This book is exactly what the jacket blurb claims it is, "a clever homage to classic works of literature." With references to Heidi, the Bobbsey Twins, and James and the Giant Peach, Lois Lowry creates an old-fashioned tale of four children, hated by their parents, who follow the examples of storybook boys and girls to find a home for themselves.

In the hands of a writer less capable than Lowry, this book could have become a cheesy mess, but the story is delightful. I loved all of the asides and...more
Apr 24, 2008 Lara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Highly imaginative adults and children.
Recommended to Lara by: Meagan's April pick
What a fun book! I would say the charm of the book is more in the winsome narration than in a page-turning plot or gripping characters. Great throw-back to silly literature like Roald Dahl. I loved that the characters all wanted to be winsome orphans. That was just like me. As a child always wanted to be tragically kidnapped or stricken down by a terrible disease.
Lemony Snicket gave The Willoughbys a rave in Publishers Weekly, so I had to read this clever, slightly twisted children's book. I loved its offbeat take on "old fashioned stories" - the four children wish they were orphans, and their irritable parents wish they had no children (and can never remember the daughter exists). The humor is dry and I laughed out loud several times while reading this on an airplane, which kept waking up the guy sleeping next to me.

There are also lots of book reference...more
Monica Edinger
I was and am a BIG Lemony Snicket fan. And once I came across Edward Gorey in high school I was smittened too. I like Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and other snarky writers enormously. But for whatever reason, this book didn't provoke the same response from me as the works of those writers do. (Gorey's Hapless Child is my all-time favorite.) The Willoughbys was just...okay. (I keep going between two and three stars. Two for my personal response, three because I respect what the author is doing.)

Not at all what I would've expected from Lowry. Personally, I'm a fan of many of the "old-fashioned" books that she parodied. This is a children's book (at least, it's shelved that way at my local library) but kids won't get many of the references or humor here, which means that it's really a book for adults masquerading as a children's book. When I first started reading, I felt it reminded me quite a bit of the Lemony Snicket books, so young readers might relate a bit more if they've read those...more
Brooke Shirts
A rare misfire from Lowry -- this is a satire of various motifs found in "old-fashioned" kidlit: plucky sibling orphans, dastardly villains, prim nannies, long lost sons, babies left on doorsteps, etc. The premise and setup are good, but the characters -- especially the four Willoughby children -- come off as more caustic than funny. I think a lot of these jokes are going to wink straight over the heads of most kids, and some of them (such as the casual "girls are no good at anything" parody of...more
Jul 09, 2014 Diana rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Diana by: Amy Anderson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I do believe I have a new favorite novel!!

Of course, it is a juvenile fiction book, meant for children, but this book truly does hit it out of the park. I knew from the instant I read Ms Lowry's bio on the back flap that I was going to love this book:

Influenced in her childhood by a mother who insisted on surrounding her with books instead of roller skates and jump ropes, Lois Lowry grew up lacking fresh air and exercise but with a keen understanding of plot, character, and setting. Every morni
So Good!!!!!
This book seems like it fits neatly into the category with A Series of Unfortunate Events. It has an old-fashioned dime novel sort of feel, with tragic events brushed off easily (for the most part; see below) and lots of crazy, crazy happenings that wrap up fairly well at the very end.

Some of the characters are cardboard cutouts, like the parents. This is kind of important because their children are trying to kill them. You're supposed to feel greater sympathy for the children, and the author su...more
I've come to pick up any book by Lois Lowry and expect great things between its covers. But when I ran across The Willoughbys in the children's section of my library, proclaiming on its cover to be A Novel Nefariously Written and Ignominiously Illustrated by Lowry, I knew it wouldn't be as profound as her previous books I'd read, but I had a feeling it would still be something special.

With so many nods to orphan stories that have gone before it that Lowry must feel a bit like a bobblehead, The...more
Paul Eckert
The Willoughby family, like so many families, is dysfunctional. The parents do not like their children, and the children do not like their parents. Each decides to drop the guise of civility and to get rid of the other. The parents decide to go on a vacation without the kids and sell the house while they are gone, all the while the kids are hoping that their parents are killed while on vacation. Add to the story a tough nanny, an abandoned baby, and a widowed billionaire, and this becomes a stor...more
I loved this book with every fiber of my being. It was HYSTERICAL.

Tim, Barnaby A, Barnaby B, and Jane are the 4 Willoughby children. Their parents don't really like them and the feeling is very much mutual so one day Tim, the eldest Willoughby comes up with the great idea that they should be orphans, like all children in old fashioned books. He brings home brochures from the Reprehensible Travel Agency and leaves them for his parents to find, in the hopes that they will embark on some ridiculou...more
Oh, this is simply fantastic.

The Willoughbys is a parody of "old fashioned" children's books that is definitely going to be appreciated more by the grown-ups who read them.

Four children wish to become orphans by ridding themselves of their parents, so they encourage the parents to go traveling in terribly dangerous vacation spots, engaging in life-threatening activities.

Their parents, meanwhile wish to be rid of their children and while traveling, attempt to sell their house right out from un...more
This Lemony Snicketish novel features the four Willoughby children who long to be "old fashioned," like the characters in many of the books they love like Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and James and the Giant Peach. Tim, the oldest, is the rather bossy leader of his siblings: identical twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B (A and B for short), and the youngest and timid Jane. It's very clear from the beginning that their parents are well--not that much into being parents. The banker father is "impati...more
I LOVED this book! It made me laugh out loud several times, including when I first started reading it at Chorale rehearsal! I read it again, reading it aloud to my children, who also loved it. I loved explaining all of the literary references. I loved the way it poked fun at the Series of Unfortunate Events series, and I loved the glossary at the back. My favorites? The distasteful mother who knits for the cat and cooks badly; Timothy Anthony Malchy Willoughby and his rules; the Reprehensible Tr...more
I’ve been a Lois Lowry fan since I was a 3rd grader and Mrs. Sanders read us “All About Sam,” which still reigns supreme as perhaps my all time favorite book. I can still remember wishing the 10 minutes of read aloud time after recess would last forever and the feeling the cool Formica under my arms as I rested my head to close my eyes and imagine it all—The Krupnick’s living room with a stomped pile of broccoli beneath the rug, Sam’s pan-tree and later the Victorian garett that became Anastasia...more
Amy Anderson
Part of me struggled with the fact that many of the characters wished certain other characters would die, but overall it was fun and whimsical. I loved how Lois Lowry wove in references from classic literature. It also has an enjoyable glossary and bibliography at the end, that one can sit and browse through. One of my favorite references in the glossary is the word: affable. "Affable means good-natured and friendly. There are whole groups of people who are known for being affable. Cheerleaders,...more
Megan Franks
Mean, uncaring parents? Check!
Recently orphaned children? Check!
Bossy big brother? Check!
Meek and mild little sister (who dreams of growing up to be more self-assured)? Check!
No nonsense nanny? Check!
Wealthy male benefactor? Check!

This book includes almost every literary archetype out there. The Willoughbys is a spectacular and side-splitting tongue-in-cheek satire of a "old fashioned story." I literally laughed out loud while reading it. I shared the first chapter of the audio book with my fres...more
Eva Mitnick
A fabulously tongue-in-cheek parody of "old-fashioned" books like Mary Poppins, Little Women, the Bobbsey Twins, The Secret Garden, and so on. All the elements are here - orphaned siblings, a nanny, a grieving billionnaire, neglectful or awful grown-ups - but they add up to more than the sum of their parts. The characters are well aware of their roles. At one point, Nanny says, "Oh, lovely! You are an old-fashioned family, like us. We are four worthy orphans with a no-nonsense nanny...And you ar...more
Some weeks ago I bought four books to read to the kids. This is the second of them. It's a lot shorter than the previous one, we read the whole thing over a span of nine evenings. It's pretty cute and has a nice sense of humor running throughout. It also does some shout-outs to some classics of young adult literature. When it mentioned The Secret Garden, for example, my two kids immediately understood the reference as we'd that one about a month and a half ago. This story is about four kids (of...more
Jun 04, 2012 Jay rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
This felt more like Roald Dahl than Lois Lowry... or rather more like Lois Lowry writing a great parody of Roald Dahl. Despite the meanness so many characters have at the beginning and the fact that it reads in a cartoonish way much of the time, the book did manage to make me feel for the characters at the same time. I really like how the characters kept hoping they'd have lives like the characters from famous books. I'm not sure whether it's enough for someone unfamiliar with the books mentione...more
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Taken from Lowry's website:
"I’ve always felt that I was fortunate to have been born the middle child of three. My older sister, Helen, was very much like our mother: gentle, family-oriented, eager to please. Little brother Jon was the only boy and had interests that he shared with Dad; together they were always working on electric trains and erector sets; and later, when Jon was older, they always...more
More about Lois Lowry...
The Giver (The Giver, #1) Number the Stars Gathering Blue (The Giver, #2) Messenger (The Giver, #3) Son (The Giver, #4)

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“Once she read a book but found it distasteful because it contained adjectives.” 21 likes
“We are four worthy orphans with a no-nonsense nanny."

Like Mary Poppins?" suggested the man, with a pleased look of recognition.

Not one bit like that fly-by-night woman," Nanny said with a sniff. "It almost gives me diabetes just to think of her: all those disgusting spoonfuls of sugar!”
More quotes…