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Book Club Kits: The Willoughbys

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

Abandoned by their ill-humored parents to the care of an odious nanny, Tim, the twins, Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and their sister, Jane, attempt to fulfill their roles as good old-fashioned children. Following the models set in lauded tales from "A Christmas Carol" to "Mary Poppins", the four Willoughbys hope to attain their proscribed happy ending too, or at least a satisfyingly maudlin one.

However, it is an unquestionably ruthless act that sets in motion the transformations that lead to their salvation and to happy endings for not only the four children, but their nanny, an abandoned baby, a candy magnate, and his long-lost son too.

Replete with a tongue-in-cheek glossary and bibliography, this hilarious and decidedly old-fashioned parody pays playful homage to classic works of children's literature.

Read an excerpt from the novel.

Discussion Questions

  • What is unusual about the Willoughby children’s names?

  • In what time period do you think this story takes place?

  • Did you think the baby would show up later in the story? Why?

  • Do you like these children?

  • Why do you think the author chose the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel as the story the father read to the children?

  • Do you like the parents? Do you think the author wants the reader to like the parents?

  • The father thinks reading is important but education is not necessary. Why do you know this?

  • What do you think of the game that Tim plays with his siblings? What does it say about him?

  • What do you think the word thermodynamics means? Is it important to know the meaning of this word to understand what is happening in the story?

  • Do you think that the nanny is smarter than the children? Why?

  • Commander Melanoff appears to be sad and miserable. Why is this so?

  • What are some reasons that Commander Melanoff could be happy?

  • How do the children and the nanny plan to keep anyone from buying their house?

  • How did having a baby in his house change Commander Melanoff’s life?

  • What very important thing does the reader know that Commander Melanoff does not know?

  • How do you think the children felt when the nanny told them that their parents did not like them and could not remember their names? 

  • Some new characters are introduced in Chapter 13. Who are they? What do you think about them?

  • Why do you think people speak German in this part Switzerland?

  • Commander Melanoff meets the Willoughbys in Chapter 14. Did you think that this meeting was going to take place?

  • Do you remember where Commander Melanoff saw the children’s names?

  • After the house was sold, what did you think the children would do?

  • Can you think of ten words that would describe what kind of people the parents are?

  • Why do you think that the Post Master, Hans-Peter, suggested that his new stepson go on a walking tour?

  • How did Commander Melanoff make his fortune?

  • Are you sad that the Willoughbys are now orphans? Why or why not?

  • The boy’s mother sent him off on a journey without any food. Why do you think she did this?

  • What did the boy remember that helped find the address for his destination?

  • Do you think the boy is a good problem solver?

  • Is “A Decision, an Announcement, and an Unexpected Arrival” a good title for Chapter 21?

  • Did the story end like you thought it would?

  • What are some different conclusions for this tale?