Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kellyis a delightful and entertaining read. If I were to create a best books for laughing out loud list, this book would rank toward the top. It is Jacqueline Kelly’s sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.
The story begins with dear friends, Mole and Rat, enjoying a lazy day boating on the river. Their peace is soon interrupted. The pleasure-seeker, Toad, has taken up hot air ballooning, and invites them for a ride. However, he fails to mention that he has no idea how to operate the thing. After wrapping the balloon around a church steeple, they somehow make it home to where a visitor awaits. Humphrey, Toad’s nephew, has comes to visit, bringing with him a chemistry set for making fireworks. Though forbidden by his nephew to touch the chemicals and powders, Toad cannot help himself. Possessed by excitement, Toad sneaks off to Humphrey’s room where, he concocts a grand accident. The resulting explosion and knock on the head turns the brainless Toad into a genius. He becomes a professor, and leaves for Cambridge to solve life’s great mysteries (like ”Why did the chicken cross the road?” and “Why does breakfast come before lunch?”). While Toad is away, the Weasel King captures Toad’s nephew and holds him hostage in the heart of the Wild Wood. With the help of Rat’s sweetheart, Matilda, (yes, there is even a love story) the heroes must hatch a plan to rescue Humphrey.
The story is full of adventure and humor. But what I enjoy are the friendships. We find real people in these endearing animals. Mole and Rat give us a model for true friendship. They show us what it means to be a friend to an insufferable Toad—a character we sometimes recognize in ourselves and those we love. We learn what it means to bear with the faults of others and how to come together in trying circumstances.
Both Wind in the Willows and Return to the Willows develop in us and our children the power to imagine a place. The River Bank, the Wild Wood, Toad Hall, and the rolling, green countryside all imprint themselves in our thoughts and memory. Though we’ve never been, these landscapes become real in our hearts. It’s like imagining Heaven: how the light plays on the leaves of the trees there, and how the wind feels and smells as it comes to us across flower-laden meadows. And Return to the Willows contains over fifty color illustrations to help our imagination when it needs a push in the right direction.
I know only a few books that can satisfy such a wide range of ages. Both a four-year-old and a teenager will find these stories entertaining. Imagine your children in pajamas, wrapped in blankets on the couch, laughing at Toad’s escapades, seeing true friends in action, and discovering the mysterious hollows of the Wild Wood.
Ideas for Engaging the Story
- For younger children, there are many opportunities to ask, “What do you think will happen next?”
- During the descriptions of the countryside, ask your children to close their eyes and imagine what they see, hear, and feel.
- Toad, as a friend, can be quite a challenge. Pause at these points to ask your children why Mole is able to be so patient, why Rat and Badger are rebuking their friend. How might they respond to a friend who needs their patient commitment?
Sample illustrations can be found at: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780805094138