Return to the Willows

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Return to the Willows Book Poster Image
Rollicking sequel delightfully true to classic original.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like The Wind in the Willows, Return to the Willows is written in a turn-of-the-last-century style and expects a high level of literacy from its readers; kids who delight in big words will have a field day committing much of the book's vocabulary to memory and showing off later. There are also funny and informative footnotes to help the reader through a patch of French, as in fencing terminology, or bits of Italian, e.g. "arpeggio." Toad's adventures as a guest professor at Cambridge, and the attendant poking of fun at pompous academics (e.g. attempts to resolve the imponderable question of why the chicken crossed the road), will be at least as amusing to erudite adult readers as to kids.

Positive Messages

As in the original, characters bring a good deal of trouble on themselves by unfortunate choices, but cleverness, bravery, and the loyalty of friends keep anything too horrible from happening. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to spot impending disaster before it happens, especially those already familiar with the characters -- for example, when Toad takes a sudden interest in his nephew's chemistry set, it's only a matter of wondering which of many catastrophic scenarios is about to unfold -- and to offer the benefit of their wisdom.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stalwart friends Rat, Mole, and Badger shine with their different talents, their helpful ways, their bravery in scary situations -- and their willingness to admit it when they're wrong. They're also good, loyal friends, not only to each other but to the self-important, disaster-prone Toad. New characters Humphrey, Sammy, and Matilda also display courage and cleverness in a crisis.


One young character is kidnapped by weasels, and his rescue involves sword- and gunplay à la the battle for Toad Hall in the original, but no one comes to real harm. Toad takes an interest in chemistry, with explosive results.


A female rat is described as getting fatter and then producing seven babies.


There's common reference to such exclamations as "By Jove!" being quite shocking. One of author Kelly's more hilarious footnotes involves a stern admonition to young readers to stop sniggering over Toad's famed "Poop-poop" imitation of a motorcar.


In one of the footnotes, the narrator explains that twittering birds are doing so in the old-fashioned sense, as it was not yet common for them to have cell phones.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Newbery Honor-winning author Jacqueline Kelly's "respectful sequel" to Kenneth Grahame's century-old classic is true to both the language and the spirit of the original, and Clint Young's lively, full-color illustrations make the book visually gorgeous as well. The original's leisurely pace and flowery language return here, often with comical explanatory footnotes, so those who found The Wind in the Willows slow going may have similar issues here. But the adventures are fun, the characters irresistible, the lessons plentiful--and the opportunities for kids who love big words are practically endless. And the same ornate language that may be an obstacle for younger readers is great for reading aloud.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bygdabbs September 4, 2018

The Return to the Willows

Well written with a strong use of the thesaurus obviously. Bound to expand your ready vocabulary. I am reading it aloud to my class after lunch every day.

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What's the story?

Picking up where we last saw our heroes Rat, Mole, Badger, and the irrepressible, well-meaning, disaster-prone Mr.Toad, author Jacqueline Kelly (who won a Newbery Honor for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) soon has them all embarked on new escapades in RETURN TO THE WILLOWS. Toad makes a brief foray into hot-air ballooning before being transformed into a genius by a laboratory accident; Rat develops a love interest; and an unlikely but fast friendship develops between Toad's brainy nephew, Humphrey, and Sammy, an impoverished young weasel. Disaster lurks around every corner, waiting for Rat, Mole, and Badger to save the day.

Is it any good?

This retains much of the original book’s fondness for lush descriptions, ornate adjectives, and philosophical sidetracks, which may be a turnoff for some kids who prefer a faster-moving story. But it also makes the book excellent read-aloud material. New Zealand-born author Texas resident Jacqueline Kelly keeps the Edwardian turn of phrase and supplements the more obscure Britishisms and foreign terms with explanatory, often hilarious footnotes for the benefit of the modern reader. The Wind in the Willows isn't every kid's dish, or every adult's for that matter, but those who love it will be glad to plunge into Kelly's "respectful sequel."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether it's a good idea for different authors to write sequels to beloved classics. Why or why not? Can you think of any good or bad examples?

  • If you've also read The Wind in the Willows, how do you think this compares?

  • If you had to depend on one of the characters here to save you from trouble, which one would you pick?

Book details

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