To attempt a sequel to one of the most beloved children’s books in the Western cannon might seem audacious at best, arrogant at worst. But with only a few missteps, Jacqueline Kelly manages to pull it off, and the result is a loving continuation of the whimsical adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and a few new friends.
The original 1908 classic is one of my favorite books of any genre–I simply adore it. I’ve read it twice in the last 18 months, and I picked it up again tonight after finishing Return. Kelly works hard to maintain the style and tone of Kenneth Grahame’s world, and she mostly succeeds. The characters are familiar and exactly as we know them. The prose attains the height and whimsical beauty of the original about 80% of the time, which is a pretty high achievement as far as I’m concerned. Clint Young’s vivid illustrations are gorgeous and portray the riverlands with a soft, evocative beauty. My primary complaint is that Kelly overdoes it with the references to probably the most famous and beloved scene of Grahame’s: Rat’s exclamation that “there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” I counted no fewer than 8 references (including a riff). The first one delighted me; the others were overkill.
When I finished Return, I immediately picked up the original again, needing more time in that glorious world. I suppose that response should be indication enough that if you love The Wind In the Willows, you should go absorb the sequel as soon as you can.