The Willoughbys Return

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
The Willoughbys Return Book Poster Image
Darkly funny, fast read weaves together families with wit.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Small bits of history and trivia throughout.

Positive Messages

Money doesn’t guarantee happiness. The way you treat other people can have lasting impact, so choose your actions wisely.

Positive Role Models

Most adults try (in their own ways) to help the kids, and the older Willoughbys are funny examples of how not to treat other people.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Willoughbys Return, the second book in Lois Lowry's darkly funny series, pokes fun at the predictability of traditional children's books while showing heart for those down on their luck. The humor might not be to everyone's taste; deeply empathetic readers might not enjoy the lonely rich children, desperately poor children, offhand comments about a drunk parent, and parents who are terrible either because they're awful human beings or just hapless. But Lowry's description of one family's poverty is so over the top that it's funny, offering a great example of how biting humor can be a rich, complex way to tell a story.

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What's the story?

The insufferable parents are back in THE WILLOUGHBYS RETURN, Lois Lowry's second book in the Willoughbys series, and they're just as daft and mean-spirited as they were before they were frozen for 30 years on a Swiss mountaintop. Their son is grown up and the heir to a massive candy fortune -- but candy has just been made illegal so his billionaire status will soon be gone. The kids in the Poore family, having grown up in the tiny home next to the candy heir's mansion, befriend Richie Willoughby in hopes of being invited to dinner and to play with his amazing collection of toys. But when the Willoughbys defrost and come back to their town, they have to navigate the changes three decades have brought: technology, social norms, and the idea that they are grandparents.

Is it any good?

Dark humor reigns supreme here, with witty descriptions, delightful wordplay, and a predictable plot with deliciously outlandish characters. The Willoughbys Return is a fun twist on traditional children's books where troubled families and kids solve problems and everything wraps up nicely at the end. Author Lois Lowry's families are troubled in outlandish ways and take oddball steps to solve problems that are of their own making. The constant stream of product information from Richie's mouth is a bit much, an excess equaled by Mrs. Poore's cheerful resignation to a life of squeezing lemons three times and sweeping with a broom with only a few pieces of straw left. Mr. Poore's references to inebriation seem a bit out of place, but in a story that features defrosted, insufferable parents and a ban on candy, all the characters and weird plot points fit right in.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the over-the-top characters in The Willoughbys Return. Do you think they're funny, sad, a combination of both, or something else entirely?

  • What do you think Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby will be like in five years? Do you think they will change or are they set in their ways?

  • What other books have you read that have dark humor?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love humor and family stories

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