The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
A wonderfully charming, witty and entertaining book, written in a voice that is reminiscent of those wonderful Victorian authors who wrote about plucky women. Wood has mastered that Victorian style of reader-aside that, for this adult reader, made the book wholly worthwhile.
Extraordinarily busy places are often compared to beehives, and if you have ever seen the inside of a beehive, you already know why this is so. (It is not necessary to actually set foot inside of a beehive to confirm this, by the way. They are too small and too full of bees for in-person tours to be truly convenient. But there are alternatives: One could peer inside using some sort of periscopelike magnifying device, for example. Or one could simply accept that beehives are busy and get on with it. This second option is called "suspending one's disbelief," and it is by far the easiest row to hoe, now and at other times too.
Eavesdropping rarely leads to the desired result. One hides under the bed hoping to discover whether or not a surprise party is being planned for one's birthday, and instead learns that indeed there was, but the festivities have been canceled due to one's cousins all coming down with pinkeye simultaneously. The danger and dust bunnies are hardly worth the trouble. Penelope knew this, but in her defense it should be noted that she had not planned to eavesdrop in the first place. The experience had been thrust upon her with no warning, as if she were a character in a comedic French play.
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.
The no-nonsense Victorian nanny moments tucked within the nonsensical plot are endearing, as well.
Now I am well aware that being raised by wolves can be considered an undesirable start in life. But truly, which of us do not have obstacles to overcome? Whining--or howling or what you please--is not the solution to any of life's problems. I realize there have been challenges. I assure you there will be more. Abandoned in the forest as infants, suckled by ferocious smelly animals, forced to wear uncomfortable party outfits, and made to learn to dance the schottische--this is simply the way life goes. Hands must be washed before dinner nevertheless. Please and thank you must be said, and playthings must be put away when you are done with them. Are we agreed?
And then there are the brief moments with a philosophical bent;
...the mystery of not knowing what one's future held paled next to the mystery of not knowing all that one's past already contained
I suppose this is what is meant by 'growing up.' Finding out the difference between what one expected one's life would be like and how things really are.
Whether this book will appeal to children, specifically my child, remains to be seen. I shall read it to him in 2011, when the already planned sequel has been released, because this book doesn't so much end as write itself into a frenzy and then abruptly stop, like an potboiler told by one who has suddenly developed a devilish tickle in his throat. You wait for the story to continue as its teller drinks some water and wipes the tears from his eyes. If the story appeals to my kid, he'll want to keep going. Immediately. So we wait.
I do think he'll like it, however, as it seems to be readable on many levels. It is an endearing story, in its way, if outrageous and unexpected.