The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1: The Mysterious Howling
Maryrose Wood, author
Jon Klassen, illustrator
2010

This book is almost a favorite of mine; in just about every respect save one, it’s a marvelous, funny, well written book. I’ll get to my quibble in a moment, but first I must share how delightful the author’s “voice” is in this book. If you’re a fan of Victorian literature and/or the whole young-unmarried-woman-turned-governess theme that runs prominently through much older fiction, you’ll enjoy this book. If you like those wry authorial intrusions a la Lemony Snickett style, you’ll enjoy this book. Here’s a sampling of the text–nothing to spoil the plot, here, just a hilarious little paragraph:

“Mrs. Clarke was also rather well turned out for the party, in her fashion. The dress she wore was a voluminous melange of floral patterns that did much to accentuate the impressive girth of the wearer. She resembled nothing so much as a spring meadow in full bloom, depicted at nearly life-size.”

A ha ha ha ha…. (gulp, snort). Did you catch that? at nearly life-size? What a thoroughly funny way to subtly point out the “impressive girth” of Mrs. Clarke. I must admit that I cackled through much of this book just because the writing style was so funny. The heroine (appropriately ridiculously named Penelope Lumley) is always bravely summoning up pithy statements from her former headmistress (also appropriately named Agatha Swinburne) or consulting her book of poetry for fortifying literature. Oh, so funny. And she’s been summoned to a formidable estate in order to civilize three siblings who’ve been found in the woods–having been raised to this point by wolves.

But I must confess my one quibble–and it is a LARGE quibble. I do not think children will be put off by this in the slightest. If they’ve read much old-fashioned literature at all and/or are astute enough to pick up on the humor, then my quibble here will sail over their heads. Here’s the deal, though, you grownup readers: if you rescue a group of siblings from the woods who have been raised by wolves, do you honestly think they’d be speaking English and conducting themselves with aplomb in the midst of social situations? Especially in the few weeks Miss Penelope has with them? I think not. But, like I said, younger readers will likely let this incongruity sail right over their heads. I enjoyed the authorial style enough to someday read book #2. It’s true. The plot at the end finally reeled me in. Must. Read. Book. #2.

Recommended for elementary-middle grades (reading level is middle grades)

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