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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fun, Innocent Penderwick Stories Have Old-Fashioned Charm

It's nice to know that sitting among bookshelves full of vampires, werewolves, zombies and gangstas, a reader can still find stories full of old-fashioned innocence and charm. In fact, I purposely chose The Penderwicks because I needed a happy book to read after sinking myself into the bleak world of California gangbangers. Jeanne Birdsall's books about the quirky Penderwicks lightened my heart perfectly. As enchanting as classics like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, these books simply should not be missed.

The Penderwicks introduces us to the family: There's Rosalind, the pretty, responsible 12-year-old; stubborn, tempestuous Skye; dreamy, romantic Jane; and their 4-year-old butterfly wing-wearing sister, Batty. Since the death of Elizabeth Penderwick, the sole captain of the "troops" is Martin Penderwick, a Latin-spouting botany professor. And, of course, there's Hound, their giant, misbehaving dog.

One summer, the lot of them pack themselves into the car headed for Cape Cod. Since their usual cottage has been sold, they're renting a vacation home they've never seen before. When they arrive at Arundel, they find an enormous mansion with extensive gardens (much to Martin's delight), a friendly teenage groundskeeper (much to Rosalind's delight), large fields perfect for soccer (much to Skye's delight), a sunny-perfect writer's room (much to Jane's delight), two rabbits (much to Batty's delight) and the young master of the house who, much to everyone's delight, turns out to be a grand friend. Jeffrey is nothing like his snooty mother or her nasty boyfriend, Dexter, both of him come to despise the rowdy girls who have invaded their guest cottage. The children, however, have a marvelous time exploring the giant house, playing soccer, shooting arrows at Dexter-shaped targets, and plotting how to get Jeffrey out of going to military school. Unfortunately, everything the Penderwicks do seem to have the exact opposite effect. They aren't about to let Jeffrey become a stiff-backed boy soldier, but how are they going to stop the dastardly plan? Two words: Penderwick Power.

When The Penderwicks on Gardam Street opens, the family is back in Cameron, Massachusetts with a brand new dilemma, one that will require even more plotting than rescuing Jeffrey from soldier school. When Aunt Claudia arrives on Gardam Street bearing a blue envelope - one which Rosalind remembers her mother giving to Claudia on her deathbed - it throws the household into a frenzy.
The letter inside, written by their mother before she died of cancer, encourages Mr. Penderwick to begin dating again. Horrified, the sisters hatch a plan to find the worst possible women for their father to court. That way, their father will not fall in love and they will never have a stepmother (shudder). Though limited to fairy tales and one summer with the dastardly Dexter, their experience with re-marriage has not been pleasant. They're not about to soil the Penderwick Family Honor by allowing it to happen to them.

In addition to putting the Save-Daddy Plan into action, the Penderwick sisters have several other mysteries to solve: What's eating Tommy Geiger? Who is the mysterious Bug Man? And how is Skye going to get herself out of a little disaster known as Sisters and Sacrifice?

Both books are written in such an appealing style that it's easy to overlook their faults. Jeanne Birdsall is just that kind of storyteller - she weaves the kind of magic that makes you care not at all about plotless storylines and predictable endings. Her characters are believable, fun and entirely lovable (except or Dexter, of course). The girls' misadventures will keep you reading, laughing and wishing you had more sisters in your life. Both books are treasures - for the young, the old and everyone in between. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Grade: A

If these were movies, they would be rated: G

To the FTC, with love: One of the books came from my private collection, the other is from my kids' school library.

(Book images are from Barnes & Noble)


  1. Just finished the first one for our Mother Daughter book club, and my daughter and I liked it but didn't love it. Evidently, we are going to be alone because two other moms told us it was one of their favorites that we've read. I liked the charm and characters but I was just expecting to be wowed and I wasn't.

  2. I loved these too..great review.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to these lovely books!

  4. It is always good to have a break from all the supernatural and vampiric books for something gentle and fun. I have yet to read the sequel, but I sure loved that first book!

  5. Oh my!
    I love that book... It is very good and touching. I cannot wait to buy the second. I love the setting of Arundle!

  6. I just bought this after Julie P said she and her daughter were reading in for their m/d book club. My daughter and I are finishing Betsy/Tacy for our m/d book club, I think I will recommend this for March.

  7. I've only read the first and not the second but was completely charmed by the delightful story. I will definitely be getting the second one too. My review is here.


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