Penelope Lumley is a 15 year old graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. Seeking work, she interviews at Ashton Place, a grand house set on thousands of acres. She soon discovers, after quickly being hired, that the 3 children for which she is responsible are in fact wild. They were discovered in the woods on a hunting trip by Lord Frederick, the owner of Ashton Place, who has since kept them in a barn.
Getting right to work, Penelope cleans them up and urges Lord Frederick to choose names for them. He decides to call them Beowulf, Cassiopeia and Alexander, but refers to them as the Incorrigibles in the collective. There is an immediate bond between the nanny and children and she makes great strides in their education. Her skills as a governess are soon tested, however, when the lady of the house, Charlotte, informs Penelope that there will be Christmas ball at Ashton place and that she expects the children to display impeccable manners as well as know how to dance “the schottische.”
Of course this is asking too much and the Christmas ball devolves into bedlam. It does so in such a way, however, that it calls attention to the mystery surrounding the Incorrigibles and Ashton Place. By the end of the book, Penelope is faced with several questions: who are these children? Is Lord Frederick trying to hide something? And what is that scratching behind the walls upstairs?
Personal reaction: This is a quirky, clever book that both children and adults will enjoy. Older readers will appreciate Wood’s witty humor. I laughed several times when reference was made to the unique aphorism’s coined by the founder of Penelope’s alma mater Agatha Swanburne. Several of Ms. Swanburne’s sayings include: “complaining doesn’t butter the biscuits” and “a well-organized stocking drawer is the first step to a well-organized mind.” Children will appreciate the comedy that ensues when the feral Incorrigibles slowly acclimate to civilized life. Ages 9-11 Themes: the pressures of refined society on children, adoption, feral children.