The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Penderwicks (Quality))
Written By: Jeanne Birdsall
Recommended Ages: 8-12
The Penderwicks is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a little girl. It has unique characters, an intriguing setting and an air of mystery about it. It stars four sisters and their devoted, but conveniently absent, father as they go on a three-week vacation to a rented cottage in the country. The book has a fun, old-fashioned feel to it that makes it a timeless story. I think it would be a perfect read-aloud for a family or classroom to share together.
The Penderwick sisters and their father arrive at their rented country cottage for a three-week holiday. They are amazed to discover that the "cottage" is much bigger than they thought, and is part of a much larger estate--Arundel--which houses the very rich and "interesting boy" of the title. The personalities of each girl is introduced and developed early on throughout the book. There's twelve-year-old Rosalind, who is motherly to her sisters and on the verge of adolescence. Eleven-year-old Skye is headstrong and opinionated, with a penchant for doing and saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Ten-year-old Jane is the dreamer, who is often caught fantasizing about the next story in the adventure book she's writing. Finally there's shy Batty, the four-year-old with no memory of her mother, who wears butterfly wings and talks to the family dog.
During the course of the three-week holiday, the girls explore Arundel and have little adventures along the way. They meet the teenage boy who helps with the gardens, and Rosalind develops her first crush. They also form a strong friendship with Jeffrey, the young master of Arundel, who has an intimidating, unpleasant mother. She, along with a doltish fiancee, wants to send him away to a military school. What enfolds is a series of mini-adventures, funny moments, and mostly believable situations that kids will relate to.
As I mentioned before, Birdsall does a nice job developing each of the girls. It's one of the strengths of the book. They are three-dimensional characters, with unique personalities. I found their relationship with one other to be loving and realistic. One moment they are furious with each other and the next moment they're the best of friends. They call emergency MOPS (meeting of Penderwick Sisters) to discuss the various predicaments they find themselves in. The adults are fairly peripheral to the story, even in the case of Jeffrey's evil mom. Yes, she's one-dimensional, and yes you won't like her (or her dreadful fiancee). But it's what the girls do to help Jeffrey that will warm your heart and keep you turning the pages. For the Penderwick sisters are the reason you read the book; and in the end, it's the sisters you care about. I am happy to report that a sequel came out in 2008 called The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and it's supposed to be equally as wonderful.
BookNosher Tidbit: The Penderwicks won the National Book Award in 2005.