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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 2 March 2013
This is a marvellous story for kids (particularly for 11-year old girls, as I can testify myself). Coming back to it 40 years on, I was drawn in to the book once more with a desire to feel that fear of the wolves again as they pursued little girls and other vulnerable souls in the countryside and towns of northern England in 1832. The wickedness of the wolves reappears in human form in the shape of the wicked governess who is appointed to look after brave, dark-haired Bonnie and her more timid but more sensitive cousin, the blonde-haired Sylvia. For an adult the book is a bit too black and white. It is more interesting, perhaps, in how it draws the literary tradition between Dickens (and the cruelty of his orphanages, the forgotten, starving poor and the bonhomie that brings together right-minded folk) and Sarah Waters (describing two girls, fighting against cruel Victorian society and being more than a match for many men).
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on 8 December 2005
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first in a wonderful series of books for children.
I started reading the series when I was a young child and found that the world Aiken has created is a magical place to get lost in for hours on end. Every adventure is superbly written and I never wanted the books to end.
Now at the age of eighteen and with a younger brother to read to, I am rediscovering the magic of this wonderful series again!
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on 15 September 2008
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of those eternal classics which has never failed to stir my imagination with its atmospheric and descriptive style, which seems to be lacking in modern literature. From the desolate and wolf-infested wold of Willoughby estate to the sinister and isolated house itself, the hideous girls' institution in Blastburn and to the busy streets of London, this is a whirlwind journey with a great variety of characters, both good and bad. The book's only faults are perhaps under-development of characters and the speed of the narrative which gives a pantomime feel to some passages of the book. But otherwise a rip-roaring adventure story and one of my all time favourite children's novels.
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on 9 March 2000
We read this book in English and we liked it because the characters are funny and we can relate to some of their experiences. We did not like Miss Slighcarp because she's mean and a thief. We would recommend this book to all Year 7 and 8 children because even though the story is in olden times, it is still funny and I can imagine myself being there. I liked it!
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Researchers constantly find that reading to children is valuable in a variety of ways, not least of which are instilling a love of reading and improved reading skills. With better parent-child bonding from reading, your child will also be more emotionally secure and able to relate better to others. Intellectual performance will expand as well. Spending time together watching television fails as a substitute.
To help other parents apply this advice, as a parent of four I consulted an expert, our youngest child, and asked her to share with me her favorite books that were read to her as a younger child. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of her picks.
We discovered this wonderful book through a school assignment. It is not a book that I would have expected that our daughter would have liked because the young heroines face terrible trials. She found the book very exciting and rewarding though, and I think you will, too.
Bonnie Green has lived in the lap of luxury in the manor house of Willoughby Chase in the English countryside. Her father, Sir Willoughby, is the richest man for five counties. She has all the toys, clothes, and ponies that anyone could want, and indulgent parents who encourage her to try things out. There is much love in the house, both from her parents and the dedicated household workers.
Because Bonnie's mother, Lady Sophia, has become ill, her parents are about to leave on a sea voyage to restore her health. Sir Willoughby has asked his attorney, Mr. Gripe, to locate a suitable governess and he recommends one who is a fourth cousin once removed of Bonnie's, Miss Slighcarp, who arrives the night before the parents leave.
To keep Bonnie company, Sir Willoughby has also invited Bonnie's cousin Sylvia to stay. Both will be tutored by Miss Slighcarp, who will also run the estate. Cousin Sylvia is an orphan has been living with Sir Willoughby's elderly sister, Aunt Jane. They have been barely surviving in genteel poverty, and Aunt Jane makes new clothes for the trip from her curtains.
Sylvia has to make a terrible journey by herself on the train. It is freezing cold, and wolves attack the train. One breaks the window and comes into the compartment. Fortunately, a fellow passenger, Mr. Grimshaw, subdues and kills the wolf before it can do any damage. He loans her a traveling rug to help keep her warm. Then he is injured when a suitcase hits him in the head. Bonnie insists that they bring him to Willoughby Chase for the doctor to look at. The servants have to shoot at the wolves to keep them away from the horses on the ride back to Willoughby Chase.
As soon as Bonnie's parents leave strange things start to happen. Most of the servants are dismissed. Mr. Grimshaw and Miss Slighcarp are looking through all of Sir Willoughby's papers and burning some. And, Miss Slighcarp starts wearing all of Lady Sophia's best gowns! When Bonnie complains, she is locked in a closet with only bread and water for food. Worse treatment soon follows.
The story makes a fine development of the concept that there are human wolves who can attack in packs and bring great danger to anyone, even the richest and most powerful. As a result, the reader comes to be appropriately skeptical of the intentions of others. But there are many characters who display good qualities, expecially love, loyalty, generosity, and courage. So the message does not make a young person feel insecure . . . just more cautious. The advice that all parents give to be careful around strangers is seconded in the story, when Mr. Grimshaw turns out to be an accomplice of Miss Slighcarp's in her greedy, evil plot.
The adventures that the girls go through are a combination of Oliver Twist, 101 Dalmatians, and a female version of Tom Sawyer. The story is enlivened by the many dramatic pen and ink drawings that accompany the text, and the humorous names for many of the less savory characters.
A good discussion to have with your child after you read this book together is how to tell if someone is trustworthy or not. You may also want to use this opportunity to encourage your child to look out for her or his rights, whether the person is a stranger or . . . even a relative.
May all be warm and safe from danger . . . especially from human wolves!
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on 30 April 2008
I think I was aged 9 or 10 when I first read this book. Having always been a fan of the adventure story (my bookshelves were somewhat Enid Blyton dominated), I enjoyed this book enormously, and have re-read it on a regular basis since then. Joan Aiken is a wonderfully imaginative author and her descriptions and characterisations engage the reader straight away. You really feel for Bonnie Green and her cousin Sylvia as they are left with the governess Miss Slighcarp, who turns out to be a plotter after the estates of Bonnie's wealthy father. The adventures that ensue are exciting and at times suspenseful, and Joan Aiken holds your interest throughout.
This book is the first in the James III sequence, which now consists of some 12 books. They are set in an alternative period of English history when James II remained on the throne to be followed by James III and where it is the Hanoverians rather than the Jacobites who plot against the throne. The cast of characters who develop throughout this series are wonderful creations who have extremely interesting adventures.
I would recommend this series of novels to everyone, but particularly children aged 8 and upwards, or parents looking for books to read to their children.
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on 30 June 2001
I first read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase when I was seven, and enjoyed it so much I bought the book. It is based on two girls and their wicked governess, set in the early 19th century. This book goes through phases of sadness, excitement, anger and happiness, an intreaguing collection that makes the book adventurous and lively, not one boring bit in it. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, "Dido and Pa", and I hope it will be just as good.
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on 13 October 2016
In an England that never existed, in a time of Victorian values, the country is overrun with wolves. When young Sylvia embarks on a long train journey to stay with her cousin Bonnie, things begin to go wrong very quickly. With Bonnie's parents leaving for sunnier climes, the girls discover their new governess, the sour-faced Miss Slighcarp, has plans that don't include her distant relatives. Punishing the girls for apparent misdemeanours, she gets rid of all the faithful servants, retaining only those whose outlook is as harsh as her own.

Joan Aiken's best-known book is written in a style that evokes the finest in children's literature. The characters and descriptions are at times a little stereotypical (in the Dickensian tradition of highlighting all that is lacking in society), and the girls' adventures occasionally skim over a little too quickly. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into Ms Aiken's work and will definitely be reading the other books in the Wolves Chronicle series.
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on 30 August 2006
This, the first book in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence, is better than most children's stories and will be read with great enjoyment by adults and children alike. However, it is worth saying that, good as it is, it's not the best of the series by a long chalk. The two girl characters aren't terrific (Bonnie's a pain in the neck), and they don't come up again. It's not till we get to the second book, in which Dido Twite, one of the greatest characters in English fiction, makes her entrance, that the whole thing takes off on wings of gossamer. It's as though Dido did something extraordinary for Joan Aikens's imagination, sending it into the most remarkable ways and byways. This first volume has to be read to get readers into the overall atmosphere of this take on the early 19th century.
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on 6 March 2016
This story has everything: wolves, a wicked governess, a secret passage, skulduggery, mystery, adventure.... It is set in an alternative version of the 1830s, but that has little impact on the plot. Two girls are left in the care of the aforementioned governess, who sets about dismantling their world. Fortunately the girls are strong-willed and resourceful, and can call on the help of friends and strangers. The governess, however, as allies of her own.

Younger readers may find the vocabulary of the first few pages a little daunting: chatelaine, portico, chaise, pelisse.... In the Vintage Classics edition a glossary at the back explains some of these words at least. It would be better, though, if an adult was on hand explain and encourage. Fortunately, after this initial flourish of outdated terms, things settle down, and the reader who perseveres is rewarded with a gripping, atmospheric tale.
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