At this juncture, I do not think it is possible to overstate my love of middle grade books. I have read so many marvelous stories in the past few months that I am convinced that I a) have been missing out for a long time, and b) am going to find something wonderful just around the next corner.
Of course, I know a couple of things about myself. I like clever books, clever people, clever in general. And I like an omniscient narrator for children’s books (when done well – see Narnia for example), as well as a historical setting. AND… I like a mystery with spunky characters, slightly improbable events, and a sense of humor. I probably don’t need to say it at this point, but The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood is an impeccable example of all of these. And so I loved it.
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.
But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?
The Mysterious Howling starts as many good adventures do: with a journey to a place and people unknown, but with hope that it will all turn out right. Penelope Lumley is a very young graduate of a school for governesses, sent to make her way in the world for the first time. What she doesn’t know is that she is walking into mystery and will be handed an impossible task.
And then there are the children – the Incorrigibles. They are funny, wild, and kind at heart, as well as too clever by a half. As you can imagine, they get into all manner of trouble, and only Ms. Lumley’s resourcefulness keeps them from utter destruction. Well, mostly. Introduce a squirrel, and all is lost.
This book resides somewhere in a land beyond endearing (is there a word for that place? maybe… idyllic?). It’s humorous, ridiculous, sweet, mysterious and altogether FUN. I couldn’t keep from smiling while reading, and I dare you to keep from smiling yourself. OH, and the illustrations! Jon Klassen, author of award-winning picture book I Want My Hat Back, did them. They (and the cover art) are utterly charming, and that is that.
Recommended for: ages 8-12, plus all of their attendant adults (and especially those who are fond of reading aloud), fans of Lemony Snicket, The Mysterious Benedict Society and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and anyone who likes books with a generous helping of humor and adventure on the side.