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The Willoughbys

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Willoughbys Book Poster Image
Dark humor may not be to everyone's taste.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Tim behaves in a sexist manner towards his sister. The children and their parents despise each other: the parents hope to lose the children, while the children hope their parents die.

Violence & Scariness

Several deaths, treated humorously, including freezing and falling into a volcano.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the black humor here will not be to everyone's taste. Some adults, and even a few kids, may find parents and children who despise each other to be disturbing rather than funny.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byfpray July 29, 2015

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 fami... Continue reading
Parent of a 15 and 17 year old Written byPNW TeacherMom July 3, 2010

Strange Family!

A book similar to the Series of Unfortunate Events, though a bit more cheerful. There is a large glossary at the back that has some great definitions for the e... Continue reading
Kid, 8 years old December 4, 2011

Laugh-out-loud - Great Book Club Book

A laugh-out-loud story. Memorable. Great vocabulary! We read this book for our mother-daughter book club. Most girls really enjoyed it, but it was too dark for... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byavidcritc January 7, 2009


Having read The Giver, I had a hard time imagining the same author writing this book. But hey, we're all a little bipolar, right? I don't disagree tha... Continue reading

What's the story?

Siblings Tim, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and Jane despise their parents so much they want to be orphans, and they convince their parents to go on a vacation where, the children hope, their parents will die. The feeling is mutual, and their odious parents are inspired by Hansel and Gretel to try to lose their children by going on the vacation, leaving the children behind with a nanny, and then selling the house while they are gone. Includes humorous glossary and bibliography of other children's books referenced in the story.

Is it any good?

Clearly inspired by both Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket, Lowry has her tongue so firmly planted in her cheek here that it seems to have obscured her vision of what made their work so successful. While deaths and other horrible events may have swirled around them, both Dahl's and Snicket's heroes and heroines (Charlie, James, the Baudelaire children) were always lovable and engaged the reader's affection. Tim Willoughby, on the other hand, though described by the author as bossy but with a heart of gold, is nothing but a tin-pot dictator, self-aggrandizing and awful to his siblings, who are timid followers.

Though Dahl may have appeared subversive, his books actually promoted the most traditional of values. Even Matilda's horrible parents in the end do the right thing and leave her with someone who will understand her better than they. Here 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. There's no doubt that many kids will find this delightfully hilarious, and there's no harm in it. But some adults may find it leaves a bad taste that's hard to shake.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • 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? Also, parents and kids may enjoy discussing the difficult words and eccentric definitions in the glossary.

Book details

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