The Willoughbys


Lois Lowry

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Minimum grade level: 


The Willoughby children have a goal – they want to become orphans – "worthy and winsome orphans" like in those old fashioned stories. But how to get rid of their despicable parents?

Well, getting their parents to abandon them for an exciting vacation was easy, but now the house is for sale, and the children need another plan. "Villans, benefactors, no-nonsense nannies, abandoned infants, long-lost heirs, late-life romance" and plenty of laughs await the lucky reader who cracks open The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Why do you think the author wrote a book where the children are trying to get rid of their parents?
  2. What do you think of the Commander Melanoff character? Why is he called "The Melancholy Tycoon"?
  3. If you were to create a diabolical vacation destination, what kind of place would it be?
  4. The author uses a lot of great words that we don't generally use everyday. Do you have any favorite words from the book? (Take a look at the glossary to refresh your memory.)

If you liked this book, try

  • The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Strictest School in the World: being the tale of a clever girl, a rubber boy and a collection of amazing flying machines, mostly broken by Howard Whitehouse
  • Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson
  • Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware by M.T. Anderson


  • Experiment with inventing a new candy bar like Commander Melanoff, or bake raisin cookies like Nanny.
  • Play "Statue Tag" posing as items of furniture or plants like the Willoughby children did when prospective buyers came touring the house. Try to guess your friends' poses.
  • Create your own travel brochure for a vacation package from the "Reprehensible Travel Agency."
  • Visit the author's website.


So many choices! Try raisin cookies, German sausage, Swiss chocolates or Babe Ruth candy bars.