sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

August 2, 2010

into the stacks: the penderwicks
posted by soe 5:33 pm

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall

From the jacket: “Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings. When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they are in for a surprise. Instead of the cozy, tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves on a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.”

My take: I read the first chapter of this novel last summer whiling away time before meeting a friend and have been meaning to get back to it for a year. When it appeared on the list of 100 children’s books not to miss, it was an early and easy selection for getting caught up.

Written in the same vein as Edward Eager’s and Edith Nesbit’s series, The Penderwicks takes a family of children, plunks them in a foreign situation, and gives them a period of mostly adult-free time in which to sort out the world around them.

The story opens as the girls, their father, and faithful Hound try to locate their summer rental. After several wrong turns, they discover they’ve booked a spacious “cottage” that gives each girl her own room on an old estate’s property. The land is owned by Mrs. Tifton, a stuffy, overprotective woman who objects to children tromping through her prized garden and who certainly does not want her darling son, Jeffrey, interacting with the riff-raff tenants. Jeffrey and the girls, however, have other ideas, which makes for a fun romp of a summer for all of them.

Although this particular book is magic-free (unlike the Nesbit and Eager books mentioned above), the tale hearkens back to a period of time when kids were able to spend time entertaining themselves without parents over-scheduling and overseeing every movement. The story is clearly not written in the here and now, as no cell phones interrupt the peace of a country summer, but laptops exist, so I’d probably place it roughly in roughly the mid-1990s.

I found the book charming and can fully understand why it was awarded the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Pages: 262

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