Lois Lowry (yes, the one and the same Lois Lowry of The Giver and Number the Stars fame) weaves a hysterical story about the four Willoughby children who desperately want to be “old-fashioned”. Their parents, the loathsome Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, aren’t exactly the doting parents who only want the best for their children. In fact, they are quite the opposite.
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.
(I LOVE that line about the adjectives. It makes me giggle every time I read it.)
The Willoughby children consist of the eldest, Tim, who is quite bossy and selfish, the two twins, Barnaby and Barnaby (nicknamed A and B), and timid Jane, who dreams of a name with more than one syllable. For some unknown reason, they are quite determined to become “old-fashioned” children. What is an old fashioned child, you ask? You know, a wise, worthy and winsome (meaning charming and innocent) orphan like Mary Lennox, Heidi, Pollyanna, or Raggedy Dick. (You may be interested to know that 99% of my fourth graders had never even heard of the before-mentioned characters. If this is the case with you, please turn off the computer/Wii/PSP and get thee to a library without delay. You have some major catching up to do on your childhood.)
After finding a baby on their doorstep, Mrs. Willoughby demands the children to dispose of it immediately, wherein they find the perfect place to dump it; the run down mansion inhabited by Commander Melanoff, a candy making tycoon who lost his wife and son in an unfortunate skiing accident in Switzerland. The Willoughbys leave the baby on the doorstep and return home to find their parents have planned a jaunt around the world and are leaving them in the care of a nanny. The nanny turns out to be quite delightful and a wonderful cook, although nothing like Mary Poppins. (Contrary to our favorite umbrella-toting nanny, the Willoughby nanny believes sugar is diabetes-waiting-to-happen and strictly forbids it.) Through an interesting and coincidental chain of events, the Willoughbys end up back on the doorstep of the Melanoff mansion and are taken in as orphans, along with the doorstep baby. A few more surprises and many more laughs ensue, but I won’t spoil it for you.