Reviews for Return to the Willows

Booklist Reviews 2012 October #2
In an age of sequels, it should come as no surprise that Newbery Honor-winning author Kelly has written a sequel to Kenneth Grahame's immortal The Wind in the Willows. Nor, given the stature of the original, should it come as any surprise that this suffers by comparison. That said, Kelly has succeeded in capturing some of the charm of the original, and her characters evoke the spirit, if not the substance, of Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger. The plot resembles that of the original: Toad is brought low by his hubris; Rat and Mole demonstrate their steadfastness; and there is trouble with those pesky weasels and stoats. Kelly has introduced two new characters: Toad's young nephew, Humphrey, and a comely young rat named Matilda, with whom Ratty (heresy of heresies) falls in love! Not heretical but simply annoying are the copious footnotes that clutter the pages, offering sometimes condescending definitions of British words and phrases and arch commentary on the text. Nevertheless, Return is a diverting tale that, one hopes, will send young readers in search of the original. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 November
Old and new friends on the riverbank

Jacqueline Kelly has had a mole, a badger, a rat and a toad in her head for 50 years. But not to worry—it wasn’t due to anything frightening or medically improbable. Rather, the four are the charming protagonists of The Wind in the Willows, one of Kelly’s lifelong favorite books.

Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honoree for her first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, told BookPage in an interview from her Austin, Texas, home that she was eight years old when she first turned the pages of Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale (which was first published in England in 1908). “I was in bed with the flu, and [the book] immediately transported me to the riverbank,” she says. “I loved everything about it, and reread it over the years. The characters never went away.”

And now, she’s set them free in Return to the Willows, a charming sequel that’s faithful to the original book while adding creative touches of her own.

Some might suggest that Kelly’s got a lot of moxie for writing a sequel to a beloved classic—and adding new characters, to boot—but, she says, “It didn’t occur to me that people would think that. I’m just being a worshipful fan of the original, my favorite book when I was a child.” She is aware there are other sequels out there, and says, “When I started writing, I didn’t know about them, and was rather dismayed when I learned they existed. I made the decision I wasn’t going to read them. . . . I still haven’t.”

When she began to write her sequel, Kelly says it was because she “felt compelled to do it. The characters were being insistent!” Judging from the hilarious and heartwarming result, Kelly (and those characters) made the right decision. Return to the Willows is an engaging, imagination-stimulating read for longtime fans and first-time visitors to the River, Wild Wood and Toad Hall.

"I'm just being a worshipful fan of the original, my favorite book when I was a child."

The author’s adoration shines through in the book’s tone and rhythm; reading Grahame’s book, then Kelly’s, does feel like a continuation, rather than a re-interpretation. She attributes that to the sounds and words of her youth: “My childhood was in Canada, and kids there read more British-based literature than kids in the States do, so I heard that sort of language and tone at an early age. Plus, my family is from New Zealand. . . . It’s easy for me to hear an English accent in my head while I’m writing.”

For American readers who might be puzzled by phrases like “bib and tucker” or words like “tittle” (that’s “best clothing” and “little bit,” respectively), Kelly included footnotes. “I wrestled with it,” she recalls. “Do I keep the British terms? If I convert to American terms, wouldn’t the text look very strange? So I thought I could deal with it by using footnotes, and try to make them entertaining.”

And of course, as a devotee of the book (and author—she’s a member of the Kenneth Grahame Society), she carefully considered things like new technology and those new characters. “I did contemplate—for about two seconds!—giving them computers and cell phones. But I just couldn’t see it. I’m too old-fashioned to see these characters texting each other,” she says.

Kelly decided that new additions would serve the story well, so readers will meet Matilda, a lovely and clever rat, and young Humphrey, the intelligent (and adorable) nephew of Toad. “I thought Matilda needed to be added for contemporary girl readers,” Kelly says, “and Humphrey would be a good foil for Toad, who’s not so smart.”

Speaking of the irresponsible yet irresistible Toad, readers needn’t fret: He’s just as wacky and daring here as he was in Grahame’s original. In Kelly’s story, his new mode of delightful destruction is a hot-air balloon (which is, of course, not unrelated to his own propensity for gassing on). He also sustains a head injury that transforms him into a genius with a seat at Trinity College in Cambridge, where his smarts (and Kelly’s sly humor) know seemingly no bounds. He does the Sunday Times crossword in pen; publishes a scientific paper called “Jam Side Down: A Discourse on the Physics of Falling Toast”; and casually memorizes the score to Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore . . . which comes in handy when he serves as a virtuoso last-minute replacement for the female lead.

There are river excursions, giant explosions, swimming lessons and an all-out animal-on-animal war, too; adventures, friendships, dramatic plots and all sorts of excitement abound (not to mention references ranging from Austen to Shakespeare to a certain Disneyland ride). The striking realism of certain events was aided by consultations with Kelly’s husband, who attended Cambridge and has connections there—and with the explosives experts who work in the federal building in Austin where Kelly practices medicine part-time.

That’s right: Kelly went to medical school, then law school (she no longer practices), and then began to write when she was in her mid-40s. “I always wanted to be a writer, from the very beginning, and I took these long divagations along the way,” she says. “I’m very grateful now . . . this is how I want to spend my time.”

Thanks to Kelly, readers certainly will enjoy spending their time catching up on old friends and meeting new ones along the riverbank. Clint Young’s illustrations add much to the experience; his artwork is masterfully done, with detail, depth and plenty of emotion. Return to the Willows will inspire us to respect nature, be kind to our friends, be open to change, embrace hilarity . . . and perhaps take another, closer look at any furry or amphibious creatures we encounter.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Spring
Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) boldly extends G[Mon Sep 1 07:41:55 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. rahame's iconic Wind in the Willows, bringing wit and imagination to the familiar characters' further adventures and adding appealing new players. Like Grahame, Kelly is generous with an extensive, appropriately British vocabulary, lightened in chatty footnotes. It's delicious to find the old friends thriving in a rousing, well-wrought tale that honors its source.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #6
The author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (rev. 9/09) boldly extends Kenneth Grahame's iconic Wind in the Willows, bringing wit and imagination to the familiar characters' further adventures while deftly re-creating the original's venue and flavor, and adding some appealing new players. Humphrey, "by temperament a bookish child" (if a toad), is far more sensible than his impulsive, outlandishly cocksure uncle Toad, now besotted with aerial transport (a hot-air balloon). Humphrey befriends Sammy, a weasel, essential to a climactic battle with the denizens of the Wildwood -- as is Matilda, "a pretty little water rat with twinkling brown eyes, lustrous fur, neat ears, and a delicate muzzle," who bakes a "Trojan Cake" to convey Rat, Toad, and Mole into the weasels' stronghold. Gentle Mole, a bit taken aback by his best friend Ratty's affection for Matilda, is eventually placated when he is named godfather to their later progeny. Like Grahame, Kelly is generous with an extensive and appropriately British vocabulary, which she lightens (and often elucidates) in chatty footnotes. She tempers Grahame's strong sense of class elitism: Badger's militaristic rigor seems less heroic now, while the true heroes are young Humphrey, a budding engineer; clever, courageous Matilda; and Sammy, unlettered yet conscientious and true. It's delicious to find the old friends thriving in a rousing and well-wrought tale that honors its source while ringing the sort of thought-provoking changes that would indeed soon challenge their pre-WWI Arcadia. The finished book will include full-page and spot illustrations. joanna rudge long Copyright 2012 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #1
Writing a sequel to such a beloved classic is almost as bold a move as Toad stealing a motor-car, but happily, Kelly's results warrant accolades rather than a trip to gaol. The Mole, Water Rat, Toad and Badger are comfortingly recognizable in this charming pastoral with adventures. Mole and Rat adore their bucolic River, and wealthy Toad tools around in a hot-air balloon (a hilarious metaphor for his blustery boastfulness) until a head injury renders him an Oxford-and-Cambridge–courted genius. This new Toad studies "hard data" on the woodchuck-chucking question and publishes "Jam Side Down: A Discourse on the Physics of Falling Toast." While Toad's at Cambridge serving as Lumbago Endowed Chair of Extremely Abstruse Knowledge, his nephew Humphrey goes unsupervised at Toad Hall. Firecracker explosions, a kidnapping and a war with weasels and stoats--including a Trojan Horse–like birthday cake--supply action; the Mole's dedication to his dear Ratty supplies heart. New bits include a savvy female character and footnotes that alternate in tone between amusing and lecturing (and are hit or miss in their effectiveness). Lower-class bad guys and a gypsy costume are outdated stereotypes, if true to the period of the original. Literary references range delightfully from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to a tender closing page where Mole reads to Ratty's child (imagine!) a book that's clearly The Wind in the Willows. Funny and warm, this could tempt a new generation toward the raptures of "messing about in boats." (Animal fantasy. 6-10) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 July #3

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a toad in possession of a fortune must be in want of adventure," writes Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) in this sequel to Kenneth Grahame's 1908 classic, The Wind in the Willows, in which she supplies a boatload of mayhem and mishaps for Mr. Toad and company. An "Animal of Action," Toad has tired of messing about in boats and stealing motorcars. He sets his sights skyward with predictably disastrous results: a crash, a head injury, and a daring expedition to recover the lost aircraft culminate in a battle waged with birthday cake and baguettes (in place of swords). While Kelly's story is more plot-driven than Grahame's, she evokes an old-fashioned feel by retaining the original's Britishisms, translated for American readers with explanatory footnotes (though most children could probably figure out that a jam roly-poly is a jelly roll without help). Newcomer Young's artwork (not seen in color by PW) captures both the comedic aspects of the anthropomorphized cast and the serenity of the natural world in which they wreak their havoc. It's an affectionate follow-up to a classic of children's literature, one that succeeds on its own as a humorous and adventurous romp along the riverbank and into the Wild Wood. Ages 8-up. Agent: Marcy Posner, Folio Literary Management. Illustrator's agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Oct.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 December

Gr 4-6--Toad's brainy nephew, Humphrey, has been kidnapped by Chief Weasel and Under-Stoat in order to repair the hot-air balloon that Toad lost in an unfortunate accident with a church steeple while Mole was a passenger. Yes, it's the characters from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows brought back to life. An old-fashioned yarn, complete with Young's superb full-color paintings throughout, recounts the exploits of Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad as they attempt to rescue Humphrey from the weasels and stoats in the dreaded Wild Wood. Hapless Toad becomes temporarily brilliant from a bump on the head and attempts to solve all the Great Big Questions such as: "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Rat finds a love interest and Mole fears his comfortable days of floating on the river with Rat will come to an end. The title page describes the book as being a "respectful sequel… containing helpful commentary, explanatory footnotes, and translation from the English language into American." These often-amusing footnotes, commentary, and translations, along with the use of richly descriptive language, produce a deeply satisfying story that would make a great read-aloud choice for a motorcar full of happy passengers. Engaging from beginning to end, this sequel is superb.--Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

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