About a year or two ago, I picked up the first book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, called The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood. The first time I’d borrowed it, I didn’t even get a chance to start reading it, as my schedule at the time was quite demanding. The second time around, though, I managed to sit down and devour it like a hungry wolf. (And that was meant as a reference to the story, not a particular song by a particular eighties band.)
Indeed, wolves are a pivotal part of this story. A plucky, young orphaned teen recently graduated from the Swanburn Academy for Poor, Bright Females, Miss Penelope Lumley, is sent to an estate called Ashton Place to be governess for three unusual children. These children, dubbed “Incorrigible” for their mischievous tendencies by their adopted mother Lady Ashton, lope about Ashton Place on all fours and communicate among themselves with guttural growls and wolfish howls (although occasionally, they’ll use the English words they’ve picked up, adding the suffix –awoo). And the Lord Ashton, when he’s not thumbing through his well-worn farmer’s almanac, disappears from the premises for long periods whenever there is a full moon.
Despite the fact that The Incorrigible Children books are more commonly found in the children’s section of my local library (and probably yours too, unless you have the misfortune of living on a remote, uncivilized island with only angry monkeys, hungry vultures, hard, bruise-inducing coconuts, and Amelia Earhart for company,) do not underestimate them. If I’d picked up the first book in, say, third grade, I would most likely have been daunted by its eloquently highfalutin writing style and occasional witty references to subject matter that, although perfectly appropriate for the age group, someone so young wouldn’t be expected to know. On the other hand, as an older reader, I found this to be thoroughly entertaining and impressive. You just don’t find super-high-level stuff like that in your average kids’ book. It’s intellectual without talking down at you, and mature without gratuitous impropriety. (To my knowledge, there is only one minor instance in the first book where little Cassiopeia, in halting Latin, tells a condescending party guest to “go rain,” which I’m assuming was meant along the lines of “P.O.”)
The three Incorrigible Children, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia were definitely an entertaining bunch, but I especially found their governess, Miss Lumley to be a relatable character. For her age, she quite a responsibility on her shoulders, and despite playing the part of a grown-up role model for the children, she, too has a childish side. The fictitious Giddy-Yap, Rainbow! children’s books are her guilty pleasure, and despite remaining calm and composed on the outside, her imagination tends to run away with itself. She’s definitely not the stereotypical strict, emotionless governess character.
Much of my exposure to the jewels of English-language literature has come from my local library, but the first, second, third, and fourth books in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series (the last of which I’ve yet to read) are available for purchase from Amazon.com, among other sites. I found this series to be a fun “readawoo,” and I hope you’ll give it a try too.