"The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" came out in 1962 and I would have been about the right age to read it. But I thought I was too grown-up. I had to wait 40 years to be the right age again!
Author Joan Aiken piles it on: An ancestral home, a gruesome governess, wicked wolves, two resourceful little cousins and their friend, Simon, the goose-boy. How the children deal with the dastardly Miss Slighcarp is a charming and engrossing tale; a classic of children's literature with what I've always considered an absolutley perfect title.
So how could I not read "The Willoughbys," Lois Lowry's take on the genre of tragic 19th century stories of childhood — and their contemporary counterparts like "WIlloughby Chase." I admit I'd never heard of "The Willoughbys" until I saw it on Top Ten list of books compiled by Jane Pearlmutter, Associate Director of the School of Library & Information Studies at UW-Madison. A friend sent me Pearlmutter's year-end roundup, along with her own. "The Willoughbys" is the first of three of Pearlmutter's favorites that I've ordered from the public library, where I also found "Willoughby Chase."
"The Willoughbys" is smart, sophisticated and silly. The book is a perfect parody, starting with the cover: black, white and a dash of red — though less dark and dangerous than the same combination on the cover of "Willoughby Chase." The red door of the house depicted is the actual color of the book's cover, visible through a cutout in the paper dustjacket. Along with the title and author, the cover says the book is "A Novel Nefariously Written & Ignominiously Illustrated by The Author." That should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Lowry follows the story of the four Willoughby children who want to be orphans like the children in all the books they read. Lucky for them, their parents have come up with the same idea. Enter the nanny, a mysterious child left on the doorstep, a wealthy candy maker, lost heirs — everything you could want and then some. Lowry's text is full of puns and word games that had me laughing out loud.
The book includes a deviantly delightful glossary as well as a bibliography 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." Huck Finn, Heidi, the Bobbsey Twins and Mary Poppins are among the books included.
It's guaranteed to make you forget your troubles — if only for an evening.