ATTENTION, MIDDLE GRADERS. Laugh your way through “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling,” by Maryrose Wood (Balzer & Bray 2010), a story about three children who have been raised by wolves. Like all good puppies, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia try to please their people. And who wouldn’t want to please their young governess Penelope Lumley, trained at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. (You’ll wish you had a governess just like Penelope). (I do).
Penelope’s story is told with tongue held firmly in cheek, meaning it’s a satire, meaning that the author is poking fun at manners and rich people, specifically, but not exclusively, of 19th Century British society.
When Penelope’s students are nipping and rolling on the carpet, or howling and panting in the nursery, she must forgo teaching Latin and Geography in favor of table manners, proper introductions (“may I take your umbrella?”) as well as bows and curtsies, in time to present them at the Ashton Place Christmas Ball. But something goes amiss at the party. Who is trying to sabotage the children’s best efforts causing them to behave wolfishly and creating mayhem? And why?
Even the villains are delightful, in their own ways. For instance, Lady Constance Ashton, their mother figure of sorts, is in favor of sending the children to an orphanage so that they might take their “rightful place as burdens on society.” On another occasion she declares she is “tragically late for a luncheon engagement.” You can use these lines and many others with your friends, as I certainly will be doing.
Sprinkled throughout are pithy dollops of wisdom, having been spoken by the academy’s founder, Agatha Swanburne—such as, “When things are looking up there’s no point in looking elsewhere.”
Forgive me when I say, you’ll be howling for more. And you’re in luck. In #2 “The Hidden Gallery” (2011), the Incorrigibles are whisked away from their country estate to London where they meet Simon Harley-Dickerson who aids Penelope and the children in her search for a hidden gallery in the British Museum. Why must they find it? Who is directing them there? Could Penelope’s long lost parents still be alive?
The entire family will be delighted by a read-aloud of the Incorrigibles after dinner. I take full responsibility if you don’t laugh your socks off.
Patricia Hruby Powell (www.talesforallages.com) is a nationally touring speaker, dancing storyteller, substitute librarian and children’s book author.