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The Willoughbys: 06/19/09
Lois Lowry's written more than thirty books and of them I've read three. I'm a new comer to Lowry's books only having "discovered" her in the last couple of years. I also subscribe to her and recommend that you do. The Willoughbys has the added benefit of being illustrated by the author.
There are two basic types of family stories in children's fiction: the adventures that orphans have and the families separated by tragic circumstances trying to reunite.
The Willoughbys is Lowry's response to so many of the cliches of children's literature. The book follows two families: the Willoughbys and the Commander Melanoffs. The Willoughby parents and children share a mutual dislike of each other. The children decide its time to become orphans because in books they always find a wealthy benefactor and end up living a better life. Meanwhile, the parents decide they're sick of the children and decide to go on a trip around the world and have the house sold out from under the children.
For the separated family half of the book, there is Commander Melanoff who is living a sad life at home while his wife and son have been lost in a snow storm on a train in Europe. What he doesn't realize in his long time grief is that they were rescued years ago. They have assumed he doesn't want them to come home because he hasn't answered their letter.
Lois Lowry brings these two stories together with the help of Baby Ruth, an honest to god doorstep orphan, who has been passed from the Willoughby doorstep to Commander Melanoff's. The novel plays with the conventions of children's fiction and draws attention to the many tropes and cliches. Although it's not marketed as metafiction, it's as firmly grounded in metafiction as Ara 13's Fiction: A Novel. The only difference is that one is intended for children and the other for adults.