Thursday, February 12, 2009

Joan Aiken & The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

First, more books that again, I would have put down but I forgot:

1. Raphael & the Noble Task by Catherine Salton
2. Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
3. The Mona Lisa Mystery by Pat Hutchins
4. Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld
5. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
6. Squires Tales (series) by Gerald Morris
7. The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Now, on to business:

Usually, once I find an author I like, I try out some of their other books to see if they are all just as good as the first one. Sadly, a lot of authors are hit-or-miss and rarely do I find someone who can write lots of books very well. I find that most of the time an author will write 1 or 2 really, really interesting books and that the rest are either mediocre or not about something I'm excited about. Avi, Lois Lowry, and Lloyd Alexander are three examples. Although I dearly love The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the Giver, and the Arkadians, I do not love some of their other, more boring books.


I have discovered an author who has managed to delightfully capture beautiful little tales and present them in a way that interests me. This author is Joan Aiken, sister of Jane Aiken Hodge (also a novelist) and daughter of Conrad Aiken, a poet. She was born in England (1924) and wrote over 40 books, most of them for children.

I was first introduced to her works in a library - as is my usual habit, I was perusing the children's section when I came across a curious title: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It caught my curiosity and I pulled the book out to reveal a red, black and white cover. I took it home and fell in love. Joan's book about cousins Bonnie and Sylvia is delicious - Sylvia, an orphan, goes to live with her cousin Bonnie and while Bonnie's parents are away, their evil governess takes over. Though Sylvia is a compliant, sweet child, Bonnie's rebellion against the cruel teacher lands them in heaps of trouble. They begin to unravel the plot around the governess's arrival should read it.

The most interesting thing about Joan Aiken and the Wolves Chronicles (which begin with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) is that she writes them as if England's history had gone a bit differently...I won't say too much, but Joan writes in an alternate universe and London is not quite the same as we know it. Fascinating.

If you try Wolves of Willoughby Chase (ostensibly for 6th grade readers but quite entertaining for any age) and find that you like it (or love it) you might want to try these:

Nightbird on Nantucket
Dido and Pa
Is Underground
Blackhearts in Battersea
Midnight is a Place

Have fun and if you do read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or any Joan Aiken book, let me know what you think!


  1. Fun recommendations. I'll have to check some out. I almost cheered when I saw J. Aiken, because I thought it was Joy Smith Aiken, an obscure author who wrote one of my all-time favorite children's books "Solo's Journey".

    It was out of print even when I was a little girl, and I bought the library's copy just so I could have my own. I'm not sure what I'd think now if I reread it, but back then I would prowl around for days wishing I could actually crawl on all fours like a cat. (Yes, the book is a cat story).

    I think this same Joan Aiken you mention wrote some Jane Austen-ish books from the point of view of side characters, Jane Fairfax, etc, which is a fun premise. I remember enjoying her work.

  2. Marissa, she did write some continuations of Jane Austen books - I read one or two of them and found them to be alright...but I much prefer her Wolves Chronicles, probably because they are more original. :)

    I haven't heard of Joy Smith Aiken...but have you read Bella Arabella by Liza Fosburgh? It's an old children's book about a little girl and a cat. It's so cute!

  3. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of my mom's favorite books when she was young!! She has an old copy of it and I've read it...I didn't know there were others...I definitely shoudl read them!