The urchins and I finished this read aloud book a few weeks ago, but I was waiting for one of them to write something about it. No luck. Then, I wrote a review, posted it, and my server went down and lost it. You’ll have to make do with my warmed-over observations.
First of all, Karate Kid, Brown Bear Daughter, and Betsy-Bee were enthralled with this story. Organizer Daughter (age 14) overheard us reading The Penderwicks, and she took it and read it to herself while we were doing other things. Every day I had to read at least two chapters because we all wanted to see what would happen to Penderwick sisters and their friend, Jeffrey. How would they get out of this scrape? And what would happen to Jeffrey? It was an excellent read aloud book.
The book did produce some “deja vu” moments. See if any of this description rings a bell. Four sisters live in a small cottage with one parent, next door to a grand mansion where a lonely boy, an only child, who loves to play the piano, lives and watches them from his upstairs window. The boy wants to become a musician, but his rich grandfather had other plans for the boy, and the boy is expected to follow his grandfather’s wishes. The four Penderwick girls become friends with the boy, Jeffrey, and the five of them have all sorts of adventures together. The eldest Penderwick sister, Rosalind, age 12, is just starting to become interested in boys. Another sister, Jane, age 10, is a writer and a daydreamer, and Skye, age 11, is a tomboy who says things without thinking first, sometimes getting the sisters into lots of trouble. Oh, and Batty, the youngest who is only four years old, is so shy that she hardly speaks to people outside the family.
Does any of this sound familiar? To any who are fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, it certainly does. However, this story, while it obviously echoes that of the March sisters, doesn’t feel annoyingly derivative or copied. It was just fun picking out the echoes. There are certainly enough new elements here in terms of plot and characters to keep the reader turning the pages and reading to see what will happen next. Some of the more exciting events in the book include an encounter with a bull, a fire in the cottage kitchen, and a soccer practice gone mad that collides with a Very Important Garden Competition to produce havoc.
The Penderwicks will join some of my other favorite fictional families such as the Melendy family (The Saturdays and Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright), the Fossil sisters (Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield), the Moffats by Eleanor Estes, the Austins (Madeleine L’Engle) and All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. And of, course, I can’t forget the March sisters. Four children seems to be the preferred number in most of these books, although three is OK and five is also acceptable. Often, the families have two girls and two boys or alternately all girls. Parents are available but not heard until needed. Most significantly, the children in all these families share an adventurous spirit and loving family relationships, making these books a joyous romp seen through the eyes of children who are a lot like my eight urchins. One of my urchins won’t read fantasy or historical fiction or science fiction or anything else except stories about “real life children who are like me.” The Penderwicks is a great sample of this kind of a book, and since it takes place during the summer holidays (subtitle: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy), it would be perfect to read or listen to in the car during summer vacation.