The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
By Julie Andrews Edwards (1974)
Did you know that in addition to her award winning picture books, Julie Andrews also wrote a chapter book, way back in 1974? That book is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and it represents her effort to beef up literature with curious, competitive sibling characters; broad, rich, stimulating vocabulary and witty wordplay; and an interaction with a learned expert who takes them on an adventure to an unknown land with rules of its own.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles somehow combines successful, effective, tried-and-true elements of children’s literature and creates Julie Andrews’s own fully imagined world and adventure – in Whangdoodleland. Take some Dr. Seuss, add some Roald Dahl, mix them with some Narnia, and put it all together with some of The Phantom Tollbooth…and you have Whangdoodleland! It sounds silly – but not the way Andrews plays it.
The children are innocent and curious and safe – and yet they’re also hip and resourceful – just like the Pevenseys, or the Boxcar Children, or even Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Professor Savant may be a familiar type – but he is new and novel and wise and stimulating to the three Potter children – and will likely appear the same to your novice readers. Andrews keeps the story colorful and whimsical. There are threats and dangers – but somehow you know you’re always really safe (unlike Alice’s Wonderland!). Best of all, Andrews keeps the wordplay flying – which is great for kids’ literary growth – but also keeps the book humming on more than one level. Younger readers/listeners will be absorbed in the Wonka-like whimsy of Whangdoodleland – while older kids will need to be on their toes to keep up with Andrew’s verbal playfulness and hijinks.
All of which makes The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles a sly chestnut from yesteryear. If you have read it – you’ll remember it’s many charms. If you haven’t – take a good look – and see if it isn’t just the bit of novelty and trove of wonder you want to share with your elementary school families.
As teachers and educators, our pride and joy is to be able to point children and families to the next Narnia, the next Hogwarts, and the next The Phantom Tollbooth. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is it!