Parents' Guide to

The Willoughbys

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 9+

Darkly funny parody of old-fashioned kids' books.

Book Lois Lowry Humor 2008
The Willoughbys Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 8+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 8+

lots of fun; wonderful words

While I agree that dark humor is not for every child, classic fairytales frequently feature parents and children at odds, so this plot point is not extraordinary within children's stories. And Lois Lowry does subtle darkness with humor, high literary quality, exciting plot twists, unlikely connections, and lots of references to other classic children's literature. I read this aloud to my 6, 8 and 11 year old children and they all loved it. (Some details had to be explained to my 6 year old, which is why I recommend this for 8 and up, but he enjoyed it nonetheless and was exposed to excellent language along the way. He tells us he's feeling lugubrious now when he doesn't get his way.) The glossary and bibliography at the end are appreciated. My 8 year old wants to read every book in the bibliography that she hasn't already read. Definitely recommended to fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but this also makes a great family read aloud. Caregivers can explain some of the text-to-text connections and unfamiliar words, and children will excitedly offer predictions, laugh out loud at the unlikely coincidences and plot twists, and beg to read the next chapter until the very end. Highly recommended.
age 9+

Ironic humor

Indeed, the main characters seem like terrible role models, and their parents are even worse, but it's all in good fun. This book is ideal for readers familiar with fairy tales and Victorian / gothic melodrama, and who are able to understand that the author is making light of serious, traditional adventure stories. For well-read families who love ironic humor, this is a must-read.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (3):
Kids say (5):

Author Lois Lowry has her tongue firmly planted in her cheek as she parodies old-fashioned children's books in this darkly funny satire. Clearly inspired by both Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket, it offers less lovable kid heroes than Dahl's and Snicket's (Charlie, James, the Baudelaire children). And while it ties plot threads up nicely at the end, the moral seems to be: If you don't like your parents, you can get rid of them and be adopted by a nice rich man. Many kids will find this delightfully hilarious, but some adults may find it leaves a bad taste.

Book Details

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate