The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

mysterious-howling

Lynn: Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, arrives at Ashton Place for her first interview. She is responding to an ad for an “energetic governess for three lively children… experience with animals strongly preferred.” In The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Harper/Balzer + Bray 2010) something seems odd to Penelope when she arrives and she is further startled when the young and beautiful Lady Constance seems nervous during the interview. “Children are not a very interesting topic, I find,” she says as a horrendous howling can be heard outside. When her charges are revealed as feral children raised by wolves and captured by Lord Ashton, Penelope realizes she has a formidable task before her. Penelope, armed with the pithy observations of her school’s founder, Agatha Swanburne, is more than prepared. Before long, with the aid of tasty treats, she has transformed her charges. But something mysterious is going on at Ashton Place! How did the children come to be in the forest? Who tried to wreak havoc at the Christmas Party and why has Penelope been unknowingly disguising the color of her hair? To Be Continued!

This quirky romp was pure fun. Wood has her tongue firmly lodged in her cheek and I loved the confiding tone and the clever asides – especially the literary definitions. Penelope is a girl of pluck and fortitude and her employers deliciously awful. This is a howling success!

Cindy: As Miss Swanburne says, “If it were easy to resist it would not be called chocolate cake.” Resisting the sequels to this delightful first book will be impossible for readers who like quirky, witty, sly spoofs of classic tales. A Jane Eyre riff for the middle reader? Why not? Well, I don’t see Penelope falling in love with Lord Ashton, but what is making that noise in the attic wall? Fans of Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low, Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys and Polly Horvath’s canon will eat this up, just like the Incorrigibles attack milk chocolate mousse tarts.

To tease you, here’s an example of one of the asides after housekeeper Mrs. Clarke remarks, “My heavens!…I am sure I have never seen three such extraordinarily handsome and well-turned-out children”:

As you may know, complimentary remarks of this type are all too often made by well-meaning adults to children who are, to be frank, perfectly ordinary-looking. This practice of overstating the case is called hyperbole. Hyperbole is usually harmless, but in some cases it has been known to precipitate unnecessary wars as well as a painful gaseous condition called stock market bubbles. For safety’s sake, then, hyperbole should be used with restraint and only by those with the proper literary training.

I can’t wait to learn what happens to The Incorrigibles and Miss Lumawoo next. Lady Constance may not be fond of children, but Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia have all won a place in my heart.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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