The Big House

The Big House

Carolyn Coman | Illustrated by Rob Shepperson

For Ray and Ivy life at the big house is not all it is cracked up to be.

When their parents are sent ”up the river” for embezzlement, Ray and Ivy are left to live in the lap of luxury with Marietta Noland and her ancient husband, Lionel. But life at the big house is not all it is cracked up to be. First there is the shrouded portrait, then there is the spider in the decaying wedding cake. And what about the vicious instrument Marietta uses to decapitate her egg? When “the rain in Spain” begins to fall (in other words, Ray wets his bed), things go from bad to worse and Ivy knows it is time to take matters into her own hands. What follows is a hilarious lark as Ray and Ivy case the joint, get the skinny, and show Marietta she has met her match.

A comic tour de force—part Crime and Punishment, part The Sting—by one of America’s most highly acclaimed writers for children and young adults.

  • Ages: 11 and up
  • Grades: 5 and up
  • Pages: 238

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Recent Reviews

7 An enjoyable romp of a mystery. … Shepperson’s drawings make the story even more amusing. [S]ure to be a crowd pleaser.

—School Library Journal

This funny, thoroughly entertaining change of pace for Coman seamlessly blends fantasy and reality in that wonderful way children can, and Shepperson’s splendid, Quentin Blake-style further enliven an engaging story of espionage, family loyalty, and justice prevailing.

—Kirkus Reviews

Cut from the same cloth as Lemony Snicket’s Baudelaire orphans, the resourceful siblings try to make the best of their comically gloomy situation. ...llustrations with inviting black-and-white art that reveals the siblings’ affection for each other in the face of La Grande Maison’s creepiness, this arch gothic mystery shows that being a pillar of society isn’t a prerequisite for being a loving parent.

—Horn Book

R Coman’s combination of one part comedy to three parts puzzle works well, and the slightly disheveled, wavy lines of the illustrations complement the enthusiasm and energy of the child protagonists. Ivy and Ray are an appealing duo that will bring out the evidence-collector in many middle-grades children and reluctant readers.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Dickens and Damon Runyon meet Annie in a story that has a fresh voice. … there’s fun to be had … great .


Coman displays her versatility with this sly comedy … [An] affectionate portrayal of familial relations.

—Publishers Weekly

[A] hilarious adventure yarn.... Hijinks and hilarity pave the way for a fun read, capturing the reader from the first page. Rob Shepperson's line drawings complement the tongue-in-cheek tone. Coman is well known for her serious, compelling storytelling. Now her voice can be heard in this light-hearted work, with a positive message of perseverance, reminiscent of the Lemony Snicket books and Spiderwick Chronicles series so very popular right now. Recommended

—Library Media Connection

Honors for The Big House

  • Notable Children's Book —ALA
  • A Book Sense Children's Pick —American Bookseller's Association
  • Parents' Choice Silver Honor —Parents' Choice Foundation
  • Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List—Texas Library Association
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award Master List
  • Virginia Readers' Choice
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Program Masterlist
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • The White Ravens
  • Children's Books & More to Read and Own — Cuyahoga County Public Library & Sun Newspapers
  • New Books for Missouri Students, Intermediate, 5-8