Jan 16, 2013

#TheList, No. 551: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

A 5th grader asked me for a "bunch of suggestions" on what to read over winter break.  So we walked around the fiction section picking out books at leisure and talked about them until she had a sizeable pile.  It was a slow day in the library, I wish that this was a daily occurrence.  It would be heavenly.  During our stroll through amazing books, she grabbed Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and told me it was one of her favorites.  She talked about 55 mph about it so I promised her I would check it out over the winter break.

I felt guilty that I didn't like it as much as she so obviously did, but I can see the appeal: adventure, good vs. evil, smart, brave children, fantastical good relationships between the rich and the help, and, my favorite, symbolism!

A pair of cousins, with the help of friends (servants), take down their evil governess and her scheme to take over the family's estate and create a school for the elite in order to steal their money. Also, there are wolves all over the place. The book starts off as (for me at least) a bit of a snoozefest. Once the parents are removed, the plot considerably picks up pace.

It makes sense, of course, that that is where the book picks up.  The first rule of children's lit is "kill the parents."  With parents around, there are rules and expectations.  Once they're gone, the children can have adventures.  What's interesting about this book is that the opposite occurs.  The parents, particularly the father, is all about the fun.  He encourages his daughter, Bonnie, to be a rambunctious brat.  Once he's gone, the governess imparts strict rules upon Bonnie and her cousin, Sylvia.  Twist!

Oddly enough, it's these rules that allow the adventure to begin.  The girls rebel against the governess, get sent to an evil orphanage, escape, and take down the evil woman.  All with many compliments to each other for such smarts.  On top of this,

Not my favorite of children's lit, but the symbolic value of the wolves gets it some more points (the governess and her evil partners are like the wolves!).   I'd label the book as historical fiction and would definitely recommend this to a child who likes classics (like the girl who loves it so much).

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