The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

The Willoughby’s are an old-fashioned kind of family. The four Willoughby children do things old-fashioned children do; they go to school, they live in an old house, and they read books about other old-fashioned children in which most of them have no-nonsense nannies, find babies in baskets, have rich parents in a mansion, or no parents at all.

The Willoughby children decide that, yes, they should be orphans and make their way in the world like so many other old-fashioned children have in books. No, they do not like their parents very much. While scheming to somehow get rid of their parents, little do they know that their parents have a plot to get rid of their children at the same time.

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The whole book was tongue-in-cheek, and more hilarious than I can even say! Many people compare the style of the story to Lemony Snickett, but I thought The Willoughby’s was far funnier. Would it actually bother you that the parents don’t like their own children? Or that they attempt to get rid of them? It shouldn’t; this book was much too hilarious to read into the actuality of orphan-hood.

The narrator was very good; not so much the voices he gives the characters, which are relatively limited, but he has a way of stating the funniest sentences in a matter-of-fact way, the very way the children do when they are trying to be serious and don’t think themselves very funny at all.

Last note: there is a lot of humor that would fly way over young children’s heads, and arguably, the entire concept of the book. Would a 6 year old find the idea of parents wanting to get rid of their children, or children praying death omens over their parents head funny? It could be taken way too seriously by some. Kids who like old-fashioned kinds of stories will appreciate it.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10

Audience: 8 and up

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

10-year old Ada and her brother Jamie live in London with England being on the cusp of WWII. With children being sent away with the threat of bombs, their mother, who doesn’t really like either of her children to begin with, decides to send Jamie away with the other children to avoid the contempt of the neighbors. Ada, however, is to be kept at home, because, as her Mam says, “No one wants to see that ugly foot”.

And it’s almost true. Ada has a twisted foot; too gnarled to be useful, and too painful to walk on. So Ada is confined to the one-bedroom apartment for most of her life. Up until now, of course. With the help of Jamie, she escapes the apartment and her cruel mother for a life with someone new. The English countryside is something completely new and different; so many new opportunities to discover who she really is, and what the world is really like.

Susan Smith, the woman who takes the siblings in, struggles with depression after the parting of her dear friend. With the arrival of Ada and Jamie, she recognizes how much care they have lacked. The only problem is that Ada fights everything; the need for help, the need for basic care, and the need for love. How can she accept everything, or anything, that Susan offers when she knows it can’t last forever?

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I checked this audio out from the library for a road trip, and the whole family enjoyed it. Even though it wasn’t a story that is usually my dad’s cup of tea, we all agreed that this book singularly has the best character depth and development of all time. We all cared so hard, and got pretty wrapped up in the story. This also has to be the most highest rated book on Goodreads, with almost every single review being 4 or 5 out of 5 stars.

Not only does Ada struggle with PTSD (not labeled as such in the book, but that was basically it) from her past with an abusive mother, she also can’t see any worth to herself. Being told she was the most hideous person on the face of the planet and that she wasn’t good for anything is probably the hardest thing for her to overcome. Over time, she begins to recognize that she isn’t exactly worthless, but the fact that her Mam will eventually come back and take them back to their dreaded past life seems to ruin everything as she tries to hard to NOT enjoy herself, and NOT to get used to the kind Susan.

It was all so satisfying; with each triumph of Ada finding new ways with which she can be useful and discovering new things she can do, it felt so justifying. The ending was very good; the only thing I didn’t like about the entire story was that I wanted to see some kind of reconciliation or explanation of Mam’s hatred towards them. It doesn’t ever really come around. To give you a little bit of perspective, she was a little like Miss Hannigan, but a bit worse.

All that good stuff being said, I don’t think that every single person will be interested in this book. While it is well done, it isn’t for those who can only read action/adventure type stuff.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 3/10 (cruelty from the mother, and also the war finds it’s way to the town they stay in, but it isn’t really graphic)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up