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The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys

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The Willoughbys

4/5 (68 évaluations)
151 pages
2 heures
Mar 31, 2008


Now a Netflix animated film, starring Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Will Forte, Alessia Cara, and Séan Cullen!
From the New York Times Bestselling and two-time Newbery Medal-winning author of The Giver and Number the Stars, comes a delightfully tongue-in-cheek story about parents trying to get rid of their four children and the children who are all too happy to lose their beastly parents and be on their own.
The Willoughby children—Timothy, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and their sister Jane—are fond all old-fashioned things, but especially old-fashioned adventures. What they aren't fond of, however, are their parents. Truth be told, their parents aren't the fondest of them, either, and they're concocting an evil plan to get rid of their children once and for all!
Both parents and children have plenty of dastardly ideas and tricks up their sleeves. The only thing they don't have is any idea of what lies between them and a happily-ever-after.
Complete with a cheeky glossary and bibliography, this hilarious and wonderfully old-fashioned parody pays playful homage to classic works of children’s literature like Mary Poppins and A Christmas Carol.
Mar 31, 2008

À propos de l'auteur

LOIS LOWRY, author of over thirty novels and twice winner of the Newbery Medal for The Giver and Number the Stars,was born on the 20th of March 1937 in Hawaii. Her father was an Army dentist and the family lived all over the world. She went to Brown University, but left to get married and a raise a family of four children. She settled in Maine, and returned to college receiving a degree from the University of Southern Maine. She fulfilled a childhood dream when she started writing in the 1970s.

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The Willoughbys - Lois Lowry


Copyright © 2008 by Lois Lowry

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


Netflix burst on cover © Netflix 2020. Used with permission.

Cover illustration © 2020 by Chloe Bristol

Cover design by Natalie Fondriest

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

Lowry, Lois.

The Willoughbys / by Lois Lowry.

p. cm.

Walter Lorraine books.

Summary: In this tongue-in-cheek take on classic themes in children’s literature, the four Willoughby children set about to become deserving orphans after their neglectful parents embark on a treacherous around-the-world adventure, leaving them in the care of an odious nanny.

[1. Orphans—Fiction. 2. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction. 4. Humorous stories.] I. Title.

PZ7.L9673Wi 2008


ISBN: 978-0-618-97974-5 hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-358-42472-7 paper over board

eISBN 978-0-547-34505-5


für meine deutschen Mädchen,

Nadine und Annika


The Old-Fashioned Family and the Beastly Baby

Once upon a time there was a family named Willoughby: an old-fashioned type of family, with four children.

The eldest was a boy named Timothy; he was twelve. Barnaby and Barnaby were ten-year-old twins. No one could tell them apart, and it was even more confusing because they had the same name; so they were known as Barnaby A and Barnaby B. Most people, including their parents, shortened this to A and B, and many were unaware that the twins even had names.

There was also a girl, a timid, pretty little thing with eyeglasses and bangs. She was the youngest, just six and a half, and her name was Jane.

They lived in a tall, thin house in an ordinary city and they did the kinds of things that children in old-fashioned stories do. They went to school and to the seashore. They had birthday parties. Occasionally they were taken to the circus or the zoo, although they did not care much for either, excepting the elephants.

Their father, an impatient and irascible man, went to work at a bank each day, carrying a briefcase and an umbrella even if it was not raining. Their mother, who was indolent and ill-tempered, did not go to work. Wearing a pearl necklace, she grudgingly prepared the meals. Once she read a book but found it distasteful because it contained adjectives. Occasionally she glanced at a magazine.

The Willoughby parents frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it.

Tim, the eldest, had a heart of gold, as many old-fashioned boys do, but he hid it behind a somewhat bossy exterior. It was Tim who decided what the children would do: what games they would play (We’ll have a game of chess now, he occasionally said, and the rules are that only boys can play, and the girl will serve cookies each time a pawn is captured.); how they would behave in church (Kneel nicely and keep a pleasant look on your face, but think only about elephants, he told them once); whether or not they would eat what their mother had cooked ("We do not like this," he might announce, and they would all put down their forks and refuse to open their mouths, even if they were very, very hungry).

Once, his sister whispered to him privately, after a dinner they had refused to eat, I liked it.

But Tim glared at her and replied, It was stuffed cabbage. You are not allowed to like stuffed cabbage.

All right, Jane said with a sigh. She went to bed hungry and dreamed, as she often did, about becoming older and more self-assured so that someday she could play whatever game she liked or eat any food she chose.

Their lives proceeded in exactly the way lives proceeded in old-fashioned stories.

One day they even found a baby on their doorstep. This happens quite often in old-fashioned stories. The Bobbsey Twins, for example, found a baby on their doorstep once. But it had never happened to the Willoughbys before. The baby was in a wicker basket and wearing a pink sweater that had a note attached to it with a safety pin.

I wonder why Father didn’t notice it when he left for work, Barnaby A said, looking down at the basket, which was blocking the front steps to their house when the four children set out one morning to take a walk in the nearby park.

Father is oblivious—you know that, Tim pointed out. He steps over any obstructions. I expect he poked it aside. They all looked down at the basket and at the baby, which was sound asleep.

They pictured their father taking a high step over it after moving it slightly out of his way with his furled black umbrella.

We could set it out for the trash collector, Barnaby B suggested. If you take one handle, A, and I take the other, I believe we could get it down the stairs without much trouble. Are babies heavy?

Please, could we read the note? asked Jane, trying to use the self-assured voice that she practiced in secret.

The note was folded over so that the writing could not be seen.

I don’t think it’s necessary, Tim replied.

I believe we should, Barnaby B said. It could possibly say something important.

Perhaps there is a reward for finding the baby, Barnaby A suggested. Or it might be a ransom note.

You dolt! Tim said to him. "Ransom notes are sent by the ones who have the baby."

Maybe we could send one, then, said Barnaby A.

Perhaps it says the baby’s name, said Jane. Jane was very interested in names because she had always felt she had an inadequate one, with too few syllables. I would like to know its name.

The baby stirred and opened its eyes.

I suppose the note might give instructions about babies, Tim said, peering down at it. It might say where to put them if you find one.

The baby began to whimper and then very quickly the whimper changed to a yowl.

Or, said Barnaby B, holding his ears, how to keep them from screeching.

If the note doesn’t tell the name, may I name it? Jane asked.

What would you name it? Barnaby A asked with interest.

Jane frowned. Something with three syllables, I think, she said. Babies deserve three syllables.

Brittany? Barnaby A asked.

Possibly, Jane replied.

Madonna? Barnaby B suggested.

No, Jane said. Taffeta, I think.

By now the baby was waving its fists, kicking its chubby legs, and crying loudly. The Willoughbys’ cat appeared at the front door, gazed briefly down at the basket, twitched its whiskers, and then dashed back inside as if it was made nervous by the sound. The baby did sound a bit like a yowling kitten; perhaps that was why.

Tim finally reached down past the flailing little fists and unpinned the note. He read it silently. The usual, he said to the others. Pathetic. Just what I expected.

He read it aloud to them. ‘I chose this house because it looks as if a happy, loving family lives here, prosperous enough to feed another child. I am very poor, alas. I have fallen on hard times and cannot care for my dear baby. Please be good to her.’

Take that handle, twins, Tim said to his brothers. He took hold of the opposite handle. Jane, you carry the note. We’ll take the whole disgusting thing inside.

Jane took the folded note and followed behind her brothers, who picked up the basket, carried it into the front hall of the house, and set it there on an Oriental rug. The noise coming from the baby was not insignificant.

Their mother, frowning, opened the door at the end of the long hall. She emerged from the kitchen. Whatever is that noise? she asked. I am trying to remember the ingredients for meat loaf and I cannot hear myself think.

Oh, someone has left a beastly baby on our front steps, Tim told her.

My goodness, we don’t want a baby! their mother said, coming forward to take a look. I don’t like the feel of this at all.

I’d like to keep it, Jane said in a small voice. I think it’s cute.

No, it’s not cute, Barnaby A said, looking down at it.

Not cute at all, Barnaby B agreed.

It has curls, Jane pointed out.

Their mother peered at the baby and then reached toward the basket of beige knitting that she kept on a hall table. She removed a small pair of gold-plated scissors and snipped them open and closed several times, thoughtfully. Then she leaned over the

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Ce que les gens pensent de The Willoughbys

68 évaluations / 55 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (5/5)
    The most fun I've had in a while. A completely dysfunctional group of people who are somehow also completely charming. All the references the characters make comparing themselves to people in "old fashioned" stories were hilarious. Absolutely a must read. It's 157 pages. You can read it in a day. Or less. Just do it.Warning - if - like me - you are a Lois Lowry fan - this is a departure - don't be afraid. It's OK.
  • (4/5)
    We listened to the audio of this on a car trip and it was funny and inventive. The kids liked the story and adult listeners liked the spoofs of literary conventions.
  • (3/5)
    I actually read it a few months ago; I've just been really bad about reviewing, especially books that I'm not super-psyched about. And, sadly, this book falls into that category. It's an interesting enough story and a very quick and easy read, but I just didn't love it as much as I thought I would. The children are complete and total brats, and I just couldn't get past that. I understand it's a parody and meant to be making fun of them, but I just didn't like the kids. As they are the protagonists, it makes it difficult to like the book. I did like the adult characters, though, and even found myself sympathizing with the Willoughby parents, which I'm pretty sure wasn't supposed to happen. Maybe I was just in one of my childfree hardcore moods when I read this (I don't actually post on that community, fyi, but some of the stories are amusing), or maybe I just didn't "get it," but I vastly preferred A Series of Unfortunate Events and would recommend that series over The Willoughbys.
  • (4/5)
    In The Willoughbys, two-time Medalist Lois Lowry makes fun of prevalent clichés in classic children’s literature – the “four worthy orphans with a no-nonsense nanny,” the “bereaved benefactor with a ward” (an abandoned baby), selfish parents, and a plucky boy – by weaving them together in a tongue-in-cheek tale. It takes a few chapters to warm to the main characters, the Willoughby children who wish to be orphans like those in the “old-fashioned” books they like to read, whose parents don’t really want to be parents. This could be a dark tale (like some of Roald Dahl’s or the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books by Lemony Snicket), but it quickly becomes amusing.Some of the humor I enjoyed included the fractured faux-German spoken by the plucky boy ("Schlee you later, alligatorplatz!" and "Ach. I forgotzenplunkt. Sorrybrauten," for example), and puns on the baby ward’s name, Ruth (when the Willoughbys leave her on the candy-maker benefactor’s doorstep, they are Ruth-less, and the candy-maker eventually names a confection after Baby Ruth).The best parts of the book are at the end – the glossary and bibliography of 13 classic children’s books. Lowry uses 38 big words in her book, and provides funny definitions in the glossary. Example: “IGNOMINIOUS means shamefully weak and ineffective….This book has ignominious illustrations. They are shamefully weak because the person who drew them [Lowry herself] is not an artist.” I love the fact that Lowry challenges her readers to expand their vocabularies!The annotated bibliography of "books of the past that are heavy on piteous but appealing orphans, ill-tempered and stingy relatives, magnanimous benefactors, and transformations wrought by winsome children," which include The Secret Garden, Pollyanna and The Bobbsey Twins, with all but one published in 1934 or earlier. Their descriptions are droll; for example, Little Women: "Meg is mature and sensible. Jo is literary and boyish. Amy is vain and foolish. Beth is saintly and dies."The more of the bibliography books you’ve read (or know of), the more (I think) you will appreciate this book’s parody. I’d only completely read three of the 13, but I was familiar with all but two of them. That may be a problem for today’s kids, as I’m guessing most of them have perhaps only read James and the Giant Peach (the only one published after 1934, and that in 1961). I think this book would be a great read-aloud by parents who have read some of the bibliography, and will also be enjoyed by children who like snarky stories (like Snicket’s and Dahl’s) and won’t be upset by the unsympathetic characters (it does have the obligatory happy ending). It’s a fast, easy read.
  • (4/5)
    I’ve had this book on my shelf for a couple years and just now read it. I really liked it - it reminded me of Roald Dahl, the way nothing is sugarcoated, fun yet not fluffy language is used, and the characters aren’t all nice. There were tons of literary references, and then a brief overview of the mentioned books was given in the back, which I think it great for kids. There’s also a glossary explaining some of the big words or outdated terms that Lowry used, and they’re defined with a great sense of humor. Highly recommended!
  • (5/5)
    Narrated by Arte Johnson (yes, that Arte Johnson!). Mr. Johnson brings a wonderfully avuncular narration to this "old-fashioned" parody of orphan stories. The way he reads it, of course it makes perfect sense that the Willoughby parents hate their own kids and vice versa, and that the kids should naturally take matters into their own hands to protect their interests. Nonsensically sensible and fun; ideal for a family or classroom read-aloud.
  • (5/5)
    Very funny and witty. Quick read, lovable characters!
  • (4/5)
    _The Willoughbys_ is a very funny, but mislabeled, book. Although shelved with the juvenile literature (the copy I took out from the library added that it was for "accelerated readers"), I just cannot see younger readers catching the parody Lowry has woven into her story. I would, however, order this book for a high school library in a second! Humorous and irreverent, _The Willoughbys_ will make you laugh. Insider tip: Do not neglect the Glossary and Bibliography! They may be the most amusing parts of the book.
  • (5/5)
    The Willoughbys are a strange family. The parents would rather be childless and the four children long to be orphans! Well, both wishes obviously can’t come true, and therein lies the tale. A bit a dark humor aimed at the younger set, this book is still quite enjoyable for older folk. Delightful characters and a devious plot make for an entertaining three hours, especially when you listen to the audio expertly performed by Arte Johnson.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this book and strong charecters involved. The descriptions that Lois used for each individual painted a perfect picture of their personalities. I wasn't sure where the story actually took place but it kind of seems New England or Britain area.This kept bugging me but in the end it kept me intrigued. I was a bit surprised with the vocabulary used throughout the story. For a 4th - 5th grader i would be very interested if they could comprehend some of the words used. The fact the Lois aded a glossary at the end was fantastic. Many of these words were so perfectly placed into the sorry. I also loved how the plot came full circle with the nanny falling in clove with the Commander, the parents dieting, the kids and Baby Ruth and finally the Commanders son at the end. That was a great way to tie it all together.
  • (3/5)
    In "The Willoughbys," we find a family of four children and two parents. The children devise a plan to rid themselves of their parents and replace them with a nanny. This is a quick read, fun and entertaining. It does have some limitations when I forget what age group it is intended for, but nonetheless a fun read for the right age. Though this book pales in comparison to some of Lowry's other books, it is charming and fun all the same.
  • (4/5)
    Such fun. Such great humor so subtly expressed. I think I laughed more during this than I had in the last couple years. I laughed out loud in public. And it's not comedy - more like parody of drama - or something. It's just great and cute and fun. The writing has that wonderful rhythm that begs to be read aloud.
  • (4/5)
    This was an adorable children's story. I'm trying to rate this book as if I were 8 or 9 years old reading this for the first time. The Willoughby children, Tim, A, B, and Jane despise their parents and the feeling is mutual on the parents side. The parents eventually abandon the children and leave them to be raised by a nanny who is simply referred to as Nanny. Nanny lovingly raises the children and teaches them to become better individuals. The second story in the book focuses on a lonely old millionaire living in squalor. However, his life is completely changed when he finds a baby on his porch. He immediately changes his ways as he realizes there is more to live for. The two stories connect, but I won't divulge the ending here because it might ruin the story for readers. Enjoy this book for what it is...a TRADITIONAL story with very TRADITIONAL orphans.
  • (3/5)
    A slightly odd, but fun book. The kids and I enjoyed reading it together. Made them glad to be a part of our family instead of one like the Willoughbys. (Although granted, the Willoughbys were definitely over-the-top in dysfunctionality.) I enjoyed seeing the growth and positive change in some of the characters.
  • (3/5)
    Quite amusing. In the spirit of a Series of Unfortunate Events, but ended in a more timely manner.
  • (5/5)
    Hilariously demented send-up of classic, "old-fashioned" type books. These are old-fashioned kids, and kids in old-fashioned books tend to be orphans; ergo, these four should be orphans... and they set about a plan to become so. I don't know if it'll be as funny to kids without as much literary history behind them, but I'll probably hand-sell at least a few on it anyway.
  • (4/5)
    2009-2010 Biddeford Intermediate School Book Award.

    I liked this, but not for the orphans. I liked it because of the old-fashioned feel to it. I wish more books were written that way.
  • (4/5)
    The characters are not foreign but familiar. They aren’t overly developed, and that is part of their charm. The story mentions at least 20 classic stories that the characters relate to, and there is a blurb about each one in the back of the book. From Mary Poppins (the book, not the movie full of singing!) to Little Women to James and the Giant Peach, the story is a loving ode to many universally adored characters.
  • (1/5)
    A morally bankrupt pastiche. It feels to me like Lowry was attempting to cash in on the current crop of creepy orphan tales (Lemony Snicket, et. al.) but justifying it by hearkening back to the orphan tales of old. It didn't work for me, on any level. The writing was phoned in, the characters made of the thinnest cardboard, and the plot so lame as to be laughable. I loathed this book with my entire heart. I can't remember the last book I've had this strong of a reaction to. Negative 3 billion stars.
  • (4/5)
    Undoubtedly, every child has wondered what life as an orphan might be like, but the four unloved Willoughby children go beyond just wondering and devise a plan to become orphaned from their indifferent parents.  Tim, a boy who plans to pick himself up by his bootstraps, long-suffering twins A and B, and the boys' little sister Jane soon find themselves without parents and without a home, but their resourceful nanny has a plan. Newbery Award winning Lowry crafts a delightful, yet cautionary tale with a twist.  This wry chapter book- akin to Lemony Snicket's woeful accounts, will keep clever young readers guessing as the campy characters keep them giggling.  Peppered with vocabulary seemingly straight from the GRE, even the most precocious child will appreciate the glossary defining difficult terminology in the end matter of the quick-reading novel.  An "old-fashioned" tale for today's curious reader, "The Willougby's" winds it way from sorrow to joy and ultimately makes us all appreciate the good things in our lives.Grades 3-6Highly recommended
  • (5/5)
    Pair with Tale Dark and Grimm. Fun, funny, read aloud or put in Lit Circle
  • (5/5)
    I’m beginning to think that Lois Lowry can do no wrong. This is the sixth book of hers that I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed every single one, including The Willoughbys. While an excellent children’s book, it is also a fun book for adults to read as it pokes fun at some of the cliches of children’s literature, while still being very entertaining for both kids and adults.The Willoughby children have parents who want to get rid of them, but the kids really don’t want their parents, either. A nice nanny, a sweets manufacturer, and the four Willoughby children are the main cast.I highly recommend it. It’s a great story for kids, but it’s also entertaining for those adults who have read and enjoyed the best of children’s literature and who can appreciate a little tongue-in-cheek fun.2008, 176 pages
  • (1/5)
    I really like Lois Lowry, but I couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. I don't feel like this book is appropriate for children at all, but maybe that's just me.
  • (5/5)
    So funny! Parents who don't care for their children. Children wishing to trade their parents. If you like Lemony Snicket or Nanny McPhee, this book is for you.
  • (4/5)
    This book is about the Willoughby children and parents each devising a plan to get rid of the other. Thankfully the children succeed and end up with a happy ending. This book was quite funny even though I couldn't figure out when it was set it was a nice play on Hansel and Gretel story.
  • (5/5)
    The Willoughbys is a delightfully written book. I found myself laughing at the characters. I love all the Willoughbys, Tim, A&B, and Jane. They are the children of Mr. & Mrs. Willoughby. Tim is the oldest and does all the bossing. A&B are twins and they are known as Barnaby A and Barnaby B. Jane is the only girl and the youngest of the family.I loved the story because the kids didn't care for their parents about as much as the parents didn't care for their children. The children had a bond with each other that the parents never knew about. The children and the parents both try to get away from each other and that made the story entertaining.I also loved all the little mentions of old fashioned books. When The Bobsy Twins were mention I chuckled to myself because my sister had all those books growing up and I always wanted to read them. She was very protective of her books and was afraid I would destroy them.If you just want a quick, fun read then I suggest you read The Willoughbys!!
  • (4/5)
    This quick little book is packed with all kinds of references to the orphan genre in children's literature. It pokes gentle fun at those old fashioned stories, while at the same time paying homage to the values espoused in those same stories - honor, affection, optimism, and love. I loved the Bibliography with all the summaries Ms. Lowry wrote about those famous books! As a side note, Ms. Lowry continues to amaze me with the variety of her works - I've been reading her since I was a kid, and her interests and the stories she tells are so different from one another. Very refreshing!
  • (5/5)
    A parody of classic children's literature. The Willoughby children set out to become orphans.
  • (5/5)
    The four Willloughbys children become orphans when their parents take a life ending trip around the world. The Nanny takes great care of the children and they end up becoming a family in the end. I found myself laughing in some parts of this book. There are also heart warming parts as well. It would be a great book to talk about what the word orphan means.
  • (4/5)
    In The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry gives readers a playful romp that is a parody of “old-fashioned” novels. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classic children’s literature, The Willoughbys focuses on the four Willoughby children: Tim, Barnaby A and Barnaby B (twins), and demure little Jane. Throughout the book, the children find themselves in situations that are identical to those of classic tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Pollyanna, Little Women, and many others. The comedic part in all of this is that the children actually point out the parallels between their lives and those of the characters from the classic tales. The story really takes off when the children and parents simultaneously devise plans to get rid of each other. The parents leave the children with Nanny and try to sell the house and the children send their parents on a vacation of life-threatening activities so they can become “deserving and winsome” orphans. As the plot develops everything that has happened from the arrival of the baby leads up to an interweaving of various sub-plots. We learn the story of the candy inventor, who tragically lost his family in an avalanche near the Alps years ago…or did he? We also follow the dangerous adventures of the Willoughby parents.Ingeniously crafted and ridiculously humorous, The Willoughbys is a delight. Many parts of the story are predictable, but they are supposed to be since most of the book is based on various stories of classic children’s literature. There are vocabulary words that many young (and even some adult) readers may not be familiar with. However, the author has provided a glossary in the back of the book that light-heartedly explains the meaning of each of these words. There is also a bibliography of the titles and authors of the classic works referenced in the novel that could help point young readers in the direction of those classic books. This novel is best suited for middle-grade readers, and would appeal to those who enjoy A Series of Unfortunate Events. Recommended for grades 4 - 7.