Return to the Willows

illus. by Clint Young. 288p. notes. Holt. 2012. RTE $19.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-9413-8; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4668-2193-4. LC 2011041298.
Gr 4–6—Toad's brainy nephew, Humphrey, has been kidnapped by Chief Weasel and Under-Stoat in order to repair the hot-air balloon that Toad lost in an unfortunate accident with a church steeple while Mole was a passenger. Yes, it's the characters from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows brought back to life. An old-fashioned yarn, complete with Young's superb full-color paintings throughout, recounts the exploits of Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad as they attempt to rescue Humphrey from the weasels and stoats in the dreaded Wild Wood. Hapless Toad becomes temporarily brilliant from a bump on the head and attempts to solve all the Great Big Questions such as: "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Rat finds a love interest and Mole fears his comfortable days of floating on the river with Rat will come to an end. The title page describes the book as being a "respectful sequel… containing helpful commentary, explanatory footnotes, and translation from the English language into American." These often-amusing footnotes, commentary, and translations, along with the use of richly descriptive language, produce a deeply satisfying story that would make a great read-aloud choice for a motorcar full of happy passengers. Engaging from beginning to end, this sequel is superb.—Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC
Rat, Mole, and Toad’s adventures continue in this lively story that can serve as a sequel or an introduction to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Jacqueline Kelly’s writing is witty, and the combination of well-developed characters with distinct voices and their humorous escapades results in an involving read. Kelly uses an advanced vocabulary in an appealing way. Readers may be able to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words from context: “the Swift launched himself into the air and flew away before the Mole could think of a suitably crushing retort. (Mole, despite his many sterling qualities, was not always the most nimble-witted creature when it came to delivering the withering riposte.)” Clint Young’s luminous illustrations include sun-dappled pastoral scenes and characters in quiet reflection as well as exciting moments involving fireworks and hot-air balloons.
The author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (rev. 9/09) boldly extends Kenneth Grahame’s iconic Wind in the Willows, bringing wit and imagination to the familiar characters’ further adventures while deftly re-creating the original’s venue and flavor, and adding some appealing new players. Humphrey, “by temperament a bookish child” (if a toad), is far more sensible than his impulsive, outlandishly cocksure uncle Toad, now besotted with aerial transport (a hot-air balloon). Humphrey befriends Sammy, a weasel, essential to a climactic battle with the denizens of the Wildwood -- as is Matilda, “a pretty little water rat with twinkling brown eyes, lustrous fur, neat ears, and a delicate muzzle,” who bakes a “Trojan Cake” to convey Rat, Toad, and Mole into the weasels’ stronghold. Gentle Mole, a bit taken aback by his best friend Ratty’s affection for Matilda, is eventually placated when he is named godfather to their later progeny. Like Grahame, Kelly is generous with an extensive and appropriately British vocabulary, which she lightens (and often elucidates) in chatty footnotes. She tempers Grahame’s strong sense of class elitism: Badger’s militaristic rigor seems less heroic now, while the true heroes are young Humphrey, a budding engineer; clever, courageous Matilda; and Sammy, unlettered yet conscientious and true. It’s delicious to find the old friends thriving in a rousing and well-wrought tale that honors its source while ringing the sort of thought-provoking changes that would indeed soon challenge their pre-WWI Arcadia. The finished book will include full-page and spot illustrations. joanna rudge long

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