I just finished Anastasia Krupnik, Lois Lowry’s first book in the Anastasia series (1979). I had nifty incentive to read it because Anastasia was my wife’s childhood favorite for a time. She and our daughter just read this first one out loud together. I had to catch up on my own.
It’s brilliant! I’ve read some slice-of-life DOGS in my time about kids. But this one is good from the start. Her 4th grade teacher has the kids write poems. Anastasia is ecstatic- her dad is a poet and lit professor. How can she miss? But it turns out the teacher only likes rhyming, sing-song poetry. Anastasia non-rhyming free verse will be poorly received. So it’s no wonder when, “Anastasia had begun to feel a little funny, as if she had ginger ale inside her knees”.
Poor Anastasia gets an F and Mrs. Westvessel goes on the bad side of Anastasia’s list of things she loves and hates. We see the list at the end of each chapter, and it’s undergoing constant change.
It’s a short book filled with birth, life, death, and lots of laughs and empathy. At the ripe old age of ten she gets a sibling, her little brother who her parents have rashly promised her she can name.
Can’t wait to read the next Anastasia in the series,even if it is my wife’s turf for story-reading with our daughter.
Lois Lowry is one of our most honored living children’s author, and maybe the most versatile. She’s won two Newbery Medals. Gotta admit I couldn’t make much sense out of The Giver, but everyone tells me it’s brilliant and profound. I believe them.
But I did have a ball reading The Willoughbys (2008) with the kids while Jen was gone to Peru. It’s a super-fun, wacky parody of the apparently-orphaned kids facing one trial after another. Sounds like A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, but somehow those didn’t tickle me. After Willoughbys, my daughter and I read the delicious Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken which must have inspired Lowry.
Lowry performs an amazing feat by having it be very tongue-in-cheek, with lots of references to the kids being old-fashioned, deserving kids and comparing their plight to situations in Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and James and the Giant Peach while at the same time having it feel real and vivid. We care about Tim, Barnaby A and B, and Jane. An appendix at the back capsulizes thirteen classics the book touches on.
I loved that Lowry did her own pictures for The Willoughbys. Its author bio, which she must have written herself, says “Today she is a wizened, reclusive old woman who sits hushed over her desk thinking obsessively about the placement of commas.” It’s great that Lois Lowry covers so much ground, and that her early heroine still reads so well thirty years later.
So Anastasia, nice to meet you this weekend and hear about your brother Sam, born when you’re already 10. And Sam Krupnik, maybe I’ll read the series about you sometime. In fact: Jen, I hereby reserve that series for reading to our son when the time comes!