Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place is Mysterious Fun
I won't lie, I avoided this book several times when I saw it on the new book shelf at the library. I just didn't like the looks of it, yes, I'm guilty of judging this book by its cover. Not that there's anything wrong with the artwork or appearance of the cover, it just reminded me of several other books that I did read that I didn't really like, so I filed these Incorrigible Children with the others I didn't like.
What changed my mind about reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling is that I noticed it popping up on some Newbery watch lists. Then I was compelled to pick it up and give it a read, I'm very glad I did!
Written in a smooth, calming style which almost seems almost old fashioned at times, the book slowly introduces characters and sets the Victorian scene with a very pleasant tone. The reader is drawn in by Maryrose Wood's word choices and when she hits the action packed conclusion, the cliff hanger is almost frustrating because you want more.
Miss Penelope Lumley a 15 year old graduate of the Swarneburne Academy for Poor Bright Girls is hired by Fredrick and Constance Ashton to care for and educate their children. The job description is somewhat mysterious and requires someone who also can work with animals and Penelope is a perfect fit. She is governess in the likeness of Maria von Trapp and Mary Poppins who possesses maturity well beyond her 15 years thanks to her impeccable training.
When she arrives at Asthon Place she is met by the other members of the staff, the coachman "enigmatic" old Timothy and the warm and helpful housekeeper Mrs. Clarke who welcomes her and helps her settle in. At the first meeting with Lady Constance, she can't help but hear a loud howling from the yard, a howling that no one wants to talk much about except to say that the hunting dogs need to be fed even though Penelope has questions about the source of the noise.
Penelope signs the contract without meeting the children after speaking with the gentleman of the house, Fredrick, a strange man with strange ideas about how children should be raised and a keen interest in hunting. He also enjoys spending time at his club and is rarely home.
When Penelope finally meets the children, she finds them locked in the barn, naked and huddled together like puppies in the straw, with only a blanket to cover themselves. She soon learns that Fredrick found them on one of his many hunting trips on the Ashton Place property and it is assumed that they were raised by wolves since most of their characteristics seem more wolf than human.
From there on, it is Penelope's job to teach them and humanize the three children named Alexander, Beowulf, Cassiopeia by the master of Ashton place. They are later given the last name of Incorrigible because he doesn't want them to share his last name.
The children make amazing progress towards their coming out at the fancy Christmas party that Lady Constance is planning, including one scene where they learn to dance the schottische. It was straight out of the Sound of Music with the three wild things dancing around the manner lead by Penelope and some of the younger members of the house staff.
I don't want to spoil anything here by giving away the ending let's just say it involves some mysterious notes, hints of an unusual hunting expedition and Lord Fredrick missing the big party but showing up the next day a bit hung over and covered in scrapes and scratches. I read the book and I have so many questions that I can't wait for the next book which comes out in February.
I like this book a lot and will be recommending it to my fifth graders who really enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society books.