Friday, July 11, 2008

A Parody For Adults?

I had a difficult time getting into The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I definitely appreciated what she was doing--a parody of late nineteenth/early twentieth century children's books--but it seemed very self-conscious. I was aware of all the very clever and amusing bits, but I didn't enter a "world of the book," as you might say. I was just beginning to feel the pull of the story when I came upon an extremely funny Heidi joke, which occurs on the next to the last page of the last chapter. It was just at that point that I started to look forward to what might come next. All that came next was an epilogue and a very funny glossary made up of all the vocabulary from the book that I'd been wondering if kids would understand.

A commenter on one of my listservs noted that the Willoughby children--four siblings who hope to become orphans and whose neglectful parents hope to be rid of them--don't do a lot about their situation. Most of the action occurs because of the intervention of adult characters. I think that was a very good observation. Adult intervention may be a convention of the older books that Lowry is satirizing, but I don't know if passive child characters make for a particularly readable book for early twenty-first century children.

In fact, things were just beginning to happen when I started getting interested. A child character had done something, and the big joke involved the kids doing something more. But they never get a chance to do it because the story is done.

Older kids who've either done a lot of reading or have wicked, dark senses of humor may enjoy a story about children who get down every time they receive a letter from abroad indicating the parental units are still alive and kicking. But I wonder if this book won't end up being a curiousity best appreciated by adult readers well-versed in older children's literature.

You can check out an interview with Lois Lowry about The Willoughbys at the NPR site. (Miss Rumphius tipped me off to that link.)



Blogger Erin said...

That's pretty much what I thought about it, too.

6:23 PM  

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