The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.
The Plot: Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is resolved to get a position as governess. What, she wonders, will they ask? Will they quiz her on the capitals of central European countries? At no point does she wonder, "what if my young charges were raised by wolves and only recently discovered and have never even had a bath? when is the right time to start Latin for such children?" Had she wondered that, she would have been better prepared for the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.
The Good: The Plot description is my lame attempt at imitating the arch, wry, tongue in cheekness of Wood's style. Miss Lumley (well, by page 7 you have sufficiently made her acquaintance to call her Penelope) may be fifteen, and a responsible, wise governess (seriously -- within months her young charges are wearing clothes, reading, speaking a little Latin, but alas, still chasing squirrels), but she is also young and imaginative. In other words, she is the perfect main character for the tween set -- but if you know a teen with a quirky sense of humor, they will get a kick out of this book, also.
To back up a little: Miss Lumley (whose own origins are slightly shrouded in mystery) becomes governess to three children, discovered on the grounds of Ashton Place, by Lord Ashton. He was out hunting and found these three wild children. Let me be a grown up for a second: I think most child-readers will just go with this conceit and enjoy the fun ride of Miss Lumley bringing civilization in the form of uncomfortable clothes, poetry, and no longer chasing squirrels into the the lives of the wolfish children, now named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia. Those who think twice about it (three children? raised by wolves?) will, I think, be rewarded in future books. A handful of clues are shared, that indicate there is something more to not only the children, their origins, and Lord Ashton, but also to Penelope herself.
This is chock full of fun. Penelope adores a series of books about a young girl and her pony (the Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! series), and applies what she learns in those volumes to raising these children. She lives by the sayings of the founder of her school, such as "That which can be purchased at a shop is easily left in a taxi; that which you carry inside you is difficult, though not impossible, to misplace."
Here is pure Penelope, as she reads poetry to the children: "Reading aloud was a task she enjoyed; it allowed her to pretend she was a famous actress on the London stage, which she thought might be an interesting career if only it were not so scandalous. Also, the working hours for famous actresses ran late into the evening, and Penelope had always preferred early bedtimes." Wood conveys Penelope's delightful mix of maturity and naivete; her practicality and dreams.
Edited to add: Because it is such gosh-darn fun and inventive, it's on my Favorite Books Read in 2010 list (see sidebar).
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy