By Matt Berman,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Darkly funny parody of old-fashioned kids' books.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Fancy vocabulary like "nefariously" and "ignominiously" and eccentric definitions in the tongue-in-cheek glossary at the back, along with a bibliography of the old-fashioned, classic children's books referenced in the story.
Bad things happen to bad people. Even rotten kids can make a turn for the better if shown some affection and caring and learn they are valuable.
Positive Role Models
The children and their parents despise each other: The parents hope to lose the children, while the children hope their parents die. Tim Willoughby is described as bossy but with a heart of gold, but he's self-aggrandizing and awful to his siblings, who are timid followers. The nanny the neglectful parents hire turns out to be efficient, affectionate, and a great cook. And the wealthy Willy Wonka-like candy magnate is a kind savior to the kids.
Violence & Scariness
Several deaths, treated humorously, including freezing in the Alps and falling into a volcano. The kids find a baby abandoned on their doorstep and put it on a neighbor’s doorstep.
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Products & Purchases
Candy bar and shoe brands mentioned.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry (The Giver) is a parody of old-fashioned children's books that tells the story of a family in which neglectful parents despise their four children and the children hate their parents, too. The text is filled with jokes and puns and ornate language as it skewers the clichés and conventions of children's classics filled with down-and-out orphans and friendly nannies, but the black humor will not be to everyone's taste. The Willoughbys was adapted for an animated 2020 film.
Where to Read
Based on 3 parent reviews
lots of fun; wonderful words
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What's the Story?
In THE WILLOUGHBYS, the four siblings --- Tim, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and Jane -- despise their parents so much they want to be orphans, and persuade their parents to go on a vacation where, the children hope, their parents will die. The feeling is mutual. Their awful parents, inspired by "Hansel and Gretel," try to lose their children by going on the vacation, leaving the kids behind with a nanny, and then selling the house while they're gone.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the dark humor in The Willoughbys. Do you find it funny or disturbing? What other books have you read where orphans or neglected children have a rough time?
Families can talk about the old-fashioned books referenced in the story and discussed at the back. Have you read any of them? Did you like them?
Do you prefer old-fashioned books or more modern ones? Why? How are they different?
- Author: Lois Lowry
- Illustrator: Lois Lowry
- Genre: Humor
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
- Publication date: March 1, 2008
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 174
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: May 14, 2020
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