Sunday, January 22, 2006

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

Birdsall, Jeanne. 2005. PENDERWICKS: A SUMMER TALE OF FOUR SISTERS, TWO RABBITS, AND A VERY INTERESTING BOY. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375831436 [Suggested Grade Levels 3-6]

Getting lost on their way to the Berkshire Mountains, the Penderwicks begin their vacation full of expectation and excitement about their destination, a rose-covered cottage on an estate called Arundel Hall. The name evokes mystery, magic, and romance and together with their dog, Hound, the sisters make the cottage their own. The sisters aged 12, 11, 10, and 4 each has her own personality: Rosalind, the oldest, and most responsible; Skye, the blonde sister who works math problems for enjoyment and comfort; Jane, the best athlete and writer of novels, and Batty who wears butterfly wings and rarely speaks. Their father is an often-absent botanist completely in his element, their mother long dead. Presented as individuals, the girls are easy to keep separate. They befriend the rich boy from the main house, Jeffrey, with whom they have lots of adventures.

Birdsall tells all with an omniscient narrator’s point of view that is both affectionate and humorous. She clearly has read her share of adventure stories where the children are left to their own devices to solve their own problems. It is refreshing to read about children who care about each other and who have such a well-developed sense of fair play. The girls encourage Jeffrey to stand up to his snobbish mother so he won’t have to go to military school because it is the right thing to do. That Birdsall allows her characters to do so on their own without any plot gimmicks or exaggerated high jinks is a testimony to her winning the National Book Award for this, her first, lovely novel.

Invite young readers to take on the character of either Jeffrey or one of the sisters. Write a letter to Jeffrey or a sister.

With similar style and plot:
Eager, Edward. TIME GARDEN. ISBN 0152020756
Enright Elizabeth. GONE AWAY LAKE. ISBN 0152022740
Taylor, Sydney. ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY. ISBN 0440400597

By Cay Geisler

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