The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Julie Andrews Edwards
Harper Collins, 1974 277 pgs
Siblings Ben, Tom, and Lindy meet the brilliant and eccentric Professor Savant and the four become friends. The professor confides his knowledge of the legendary Whangdoodle and how the species once lived among humans. He has personally been to Whangdoodle Land and starts training the children in sharpening their detection skills and using their imaginations. After many exercises and coaching the children are ready to try to journey to the magical land. Donning their "scrappy caps", magical hats that help them to transport, They enter Whangdoodle Land. It is even better, more colorful and beautiful, than the professor described it. They make friends with a "whiffle bird" who continues to help them throughout their quest to find the Whangdoodle. After several exploratory visits to Whangdoodle Land, the evil Prok (the Whangdoodle's left-hand man) kidnaps Lindy and the other three set out to save her. Their rescue attempt takes them close to the Whangdoodle's castle and the professor finds he cannot go on. The three children cross the bridge to the palace and talk Prok into letting them meet the Whangdoodle. The Whangdoodle does not disappoint. He is as fabulous as the professor has promised, only he is very sad. The Whangdoodle is the last of his kind and wants companionship, specifically that of a female Whangdoodle. Lindy is given the task of coaxing the professor across the bridge and to the Whangdoodle's castle in order for him to use his knowledge of genetics to try to solve the legendary beast's dilemma.
Even though I was a child when this book came out, I have never read it. The kids in my 5th & 6th grade book group suggested reading it, so I finally gave it a try. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles was written by the prolific Julie Andrews (yes THAT Julie Andrews) under her married name. Reading it feels like watching one of her movies: comforting, sweet, and slightly magical. I never heard of Whangdoodles, but, as the children in the book discovered, they are in the dictionary as "a fanciful creature of undefined nature". Doesn't that definition get your imagination going? The book feels a little like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, both in being transported to a magical land and befriending creatures and in its Briticism, although without the violence. Both girls and boys will enjoy this book and although it has 277 pages and (gasp!) no illustrations, it reads quickly. Andrews explains in an author's note that she purposely did not want illustrations in order for children to use their own imaginations to see the Whangdoodle however they want. The kids are likable enough, although I kept confusing the identity of the two boys were are never fully developed. The youngest sister gets the bulk of the adventure and the professor is wonderfully eccentric, thus stealing the show. Although it feels like an older book, modern touches and slang are thrown in to contemporize the story. Today's kids may question the Independence given the children in the story and modern children no longer befriend adult neighbors and spend full days at their houses. Regardless, its a blast back to a kinder, gentler time when kids grew up slower and magical lands could be just on the other side of the bushes.