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A Great Adventure Tale of Cooperation Overcoming Danger!
am 1. August 2007
Researchers constantly find that reading to children is valuable in a variety of ways, not least of which are instilling a love of reading and improved reading skills. With better parent-child bonding from reading, your child will also be more emotionally secure and able to relate better to others. Intellectual performance will expand as well. Spending time together watching television fails as a substitute.
To help other parents apply this advice, as a parent of four I consulted an expert, our youngest child, and asked her to share with me her favorite books that were read to her as a younger child. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of her picks.
We discovered this wonderful book through a school assignment. It is not a book that I would have expected that our daughter would have liked because the young heroines face terrible trials. She found the book very exciting and rewarding though, and I think you will, too.
Bonnie Green has lived in the lap of luxury in the manor house of Willoughby Chase in the English countryside. Her father, Sir Willoughby, is the richest man for five counties. She has all the toys, clothes, and ponies that anyone could want, and indulgent parents who encourage her to try things out. There is much love in the house, both from her parents and the dedicated household workers.
Because Bonnie's mother, Lady Sophia, has become ill, her parents are about to leave on a sea voyage to restore her health. Sir Willoughby has asked his attorney, Mr. Gripe, to locate a suitable governess and he recommends one who is a fourth cousin once removed of Bonnie's, Miss Slighcarp, who arrives the night before the parents leave.
To keep Bonnie company, Sir Willoughby has also invited Bonnie's cousin Sylvia to stay. Both will be tutored by Miss Slighcarp, who will also run the estate. Cousin Sylvia is an orphan has been living with Sir Willoughby's elderly sister, Aunt Jane. They have been barely surviving in genteel poverty, and Aunt Jane makes new clothes for the trip from her curtains.
Sylvia has to make a terrible journey by herself on the train. It is freezing cold, and wolves attack the train. One breaks the window and comes into the compartment. Fortunately, a fellow passenger, Mr. Grimshaw, subdues and kills the wolf before it can do any damage. He loans her a traveling rug to help keep her warm. Then he is injured when a suitcase hits him in the head. Bonnie insists that they bring him to Willoughby Chase for the doctor to look at. The servants have to shoot at the wolves to keep them away from the horses on the ride back to Willoughby Chase.
As soon as Bonnie's parents leave strange things start to happen. Most of the servants are dismissed. Mr. Grimshaw and Miss Slighcarp are looking through all of Sir Willoughby's papers and burning some. And, Miss Slighcarp starts wearing all of Lady Sophia's best gowns! When Bonnie complains, she is locked in a closet with only bread and water for food. Worse treatment soon follows.
The story makes a fine development of the concept that there are human wolves who can attack in packs and bring great danger to anyone, even the richest and most powerful. As a result, the reader comes to be appropriately skeptical of the intentions of others. But there are many characters who display good qualities, expecially love, loyalty, generosity, and courage. So the message does not make a young person feel insecure . . . just more cautious. The advice that all parents give to be careful around strangers is seconded in the story, when Mr. Grimshaw turns out to be an accomplice of Miss Slighcarp's in her greedy, evil plot.
The adventures that the girls go through are a combination of Oliver Twist, 101 Dalmatians, and a female version of Tom Sawyer. The story is enlivened by the many dramatic pen and ink drawings that accompany the text, and the humorous names for many of the less savory characters.
A good discussion to have with your child after you read this book together is how to tell if someone is trustworthy or not. You may also want to use this opportunity to encourage your child to look out for her or his rights, whether the person is a stranger or . . . even a relative.
May all be warm and safe from danger . . . especially from human wolves!