Return to the Willows
Jacqueline Kelly (Juvenile Fiction)
The Mole and Water Rat drifted along the River in a tiny blue-and-white rowboat. The current gurgled and chuckled, delighted with its comrades for the day. The sun smiled down upon our heroes and gladdened their hearts; the lightest of zephyrs ruffled their fur. There was not a hawk in the sky, and even the dark fringe of the Wild Wood glowering in the distance could not cast a pall upon the shining hour.
This first paragraph sets the stage for a wonderful and, dare I say, epic tale that awaits our wonderful friends Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger. If you are a lover of our friends’ original exploits in The Wind in the Willows, then rest assured this tale contains just as much mayhem, mishaps, and mischief to keep your heart quite full and content. Although we have to once again contend with those dreaded weasels and stoats, we are treated to several new friends including a nephew, a best friend, and a wonderfully clever and brave love interest for one of our deserving heroes. As Rat well knows, the current is a fickle friend and you never know where you might be led, but with our loyal four friends by our side, we know that we are in for quite a wild ride.
When I first spotted this book on the library shelf, I must admit that my first reaction was, “How DARE she! I mean the GALL!” Honestly, you simply don’t go fussing with Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale all willy-nilly and higgledy-piggledy. Well, do you? But after reading the opening, I knew our friends were in very safe and capable hands. Kelly stays remarkably faithful to Grahame’s writing style, use of words and phrases, and our beloved characters and their stories. The added footnotes and chapter introductions were clever and amusing and will help young readers understand the many English references found throughout the story. For example, Footnote #60 reads, “In England, the wedding reception is called the wedding breakfast, even if it’s held in the afternoon. Yes, I know that’s odd.”
Return to the Willows can be read as a standalone, but it’s best read after the first has been properly savored and enjoyed. There are many references to the original that Kelly tries to provide as much background as possible for newcomers, but having a familiarity with our heroes and their past exploits will provide a wholly more satisfying adventure. Forgive me, Ms. Kelly, for doubting you and please accept my humblest apologies and sincere gratitude for breathing new life into Rat, Toad, Mole, and Badger. You have treated them with the care, dignity, and grace they all deserve. Now off we go for the River awaits!
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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