Writing a sequel to such a beloved classic is almost as bold a move as Toad stealing a motor-car, but happily, Kelly’s results warrant accolades rather than a trip to gaol.
The Mole, Water Rat, Toad and Badger are comfortingly recognizable in this charming pastoral with adventures. Mole and Rat adore their bucolic River, and wealthy Toad tools around in a hot-air balloon (a hilarious metaphor for his blustery boastfulness) until a head injury renders him an Oxford-and-Cambridge–courted genius. This new Toad studies “hard data” on the woodchuck-chucking question and publishes “Jam Side Down: A Discourse on the Physics of Falling Toast.” While Toad’s at Cambridge serving as Lumbago Endowed Chair of Extremely Abstruse Knowledge, his nephew Humphrey goes unsupervised at Toad Hall. Firecracker explosions, a kidnapping and a war with weasels and stoats—including a Trojan Horse–like birthday cake—supply action; the Mole’s dedication to his dear Ratty supplies heart. New bits include a savvy female character and footnotes that alternate in tone between amusing and lecturing (and are hit or miss in their effectiveness). Lower-class bad guys and a gypsy costume are outdated stereotypes, if true to the period of the original. Literary references range delightfully from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to a tender closing page where Mole reads to Ratty’s child (imagine!) a book that’s clearly The Wind in the Willows.
Funny and warm, this could tempt a new generation toward the raptures of “messing about in boats.” (Animal fantasy. 6-10)