“Return to the Willows,” by Jacqueline Kelly, illustrated by Clint Young
By Kristi Elle Jemtegaard,
In which Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad reappear after a century-long hiatus to adventure once more in the Wild Wood.
Creating a new installment for a much-loved childhood classic is a daunting project. When the classic in question is Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” the fragile blend of whimsy and humor makes the margin for error especially wide. This brand-spanking-new sequel has been neatly packaged in a generous square trim-size and handsomely illustrated by Clint Young in a style that echoes but does not imitate the many earlier editions. But what about the writing? Fortunately for a new generation of readers, Newbery Honor author Jacqueline Kelly must have steeped herself like a tea bag in all things British. Evoking the ineffable mixture of capers and camaraderie that has kept the original in print for so long, she serves up a roistering, boisterous tale of hot-air balloons, fireworks and GBQs*. And while youngsters are lapping up Toad’s adventures, howling as he rockets from lugubrious to lovable in the space of a chapter, adults lucky enough to read this aloud will also have lots of sly asides to chuckle over (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a toad in possession of a fortune must be in want of adventure”). Although alternative versions (including several earlier sequels) abound in movies, on stage and even as theme park rides, this is a worthy successor that ends — most improbably — with cudgels and cake and a graceful reminder to revisit the original.
* Gentle reader, should you wish to know the meaning of these initials, please refer to Footnote 32 of the 87 citations included in this erudite text.
— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard
RETURN TO THE WILLOWS By Jacqueline Kelly Illustrated by Clint Young Henry Holt. $19.99. Ages 8 and up (younger for reading aloud)