Lois Lowry has written about 30 books for younger readers and is probably best known for harrowing dramas like “The Giver” and “Number the Stars.” This book is very different, and often funny. It sends up old-fashioned family stories like “Little Women” and “Anne of Green Gables” in a meta-fictional way that intentionally tries to turn everything upside down.
There are four children who are petty and mean to each other, with parents that are equally awful. There’s a nanny who is nothing like Mary Poppins, though she turns out to be a good sort. There’s an abandoned baby who the children callously pass on to a grieving widower. His wife and child have been buried in an avalanche in the Alps, and are surely dead…or are they? Lowry makes no bones about the fact that her characters are awful and nothing like the classic ones she keeps mentioning. You’d think that would put off readers, but I actually found it appealing. To me, it showed she really loved all those stories, and the fact that many of them are described and recommended in the back of the book suggests I’m right.
While the awful things that are said and done are funny, as the book progresses, nearly everyone goes through personal growth, except for a few who are too awful to be reformed. (Things don’t end well for them.) The nanny turns out to be a good influence on the children. The grieving widower takes in the abandoned child, which turns his life around. He also befriends the four children when their parents try to ditch them. In the end, I quite liked many of the characters, and found the story quite amusing and appealing. This is a short book, and I was kind of sorry when it ended.