books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 

 

I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Wolves Chronicles)

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken, Pat Marriott

It's fascinating how much children's lit has changed over the course of the past century or so, and reading this book for the first time 50 years after it was originally published is an interesting example.

 

First of all, though, I want to say that the best thing about this is the wolves: There's nothing to spoil except that the wolves are never explained. They're just roaming around, taken for granted. Everybody knows about the wolves, but we never know why they're there. I love this. I love that they're the title of the book but have nothing to do with the story except as a looming, ominous, always-present shadow. I have no idea if they're explained in later books, but the mystery surrounding them in this one is fantastic.

 

This book feels to me in keeping with the older (earlier 20th century and before) tradition of children's lit: wicked people are thoroughly bad, with no redeeming qualities, and are punished. Good people are hardworking, brave, kind, charitable, and if they are rich they are generous with their wealth and if they are poor they are rewarded by the rich. After the villains' plans are set in motion, the children encounter people so good they border on fairy godmother. Convincing the good adults to save the day from the bad ones is no trouble, and everything is resolved in nigh-miraculous fashion.

 

What made me pick it up?

It was mentioned to me by a co-worker—who hadn't actually read it either, but we looked it up together and were both sold on the premise and cover, as well as the many accolades.