I seriously laaarve this book.
The Penderwicks is Jeanne Birdsall’s glorious beyond glorious story of four sisters, their widowed father, their wild dog, Hound, and the wonderful boy they befriend while vacationing in a cottage located on an estate called Arundel. Whew. The story funny and sweet and the characters are so easy to love. Here are my five reasons for you to read it!
1.) Probably the best thing about The Penderwicks is that it just feels so old fashioned in a very good way. The family is comprised of four girls: Rosalind, the eldest, most practical sister; Skye, the wild tomboy; Jane, the melodramatic and sometimes flaky aspiring writer; and Batty, the baby who is shy and wears butterfly wings at all times. I can’t really describe it, but this book just “feels like” Little Women or Anne of Green Gables without feeling like a knock-off, which I think is a great accomplishment.
The girls have MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters) and MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters). They write and read constantly. They’re encouraged to be themselves and to help others. They get into lots of adventures and “scrapes” as Alcott would say, and the entire book is just a wholesome joy.
2.) Penderwick Family Honor! Whenever a situation arises in which the girls have to make a judgement call – and plenty do – they always revert back to Penderwick Family Honor. I love this because honor is clearly a value that’s been stressed as an integral part of the identity of this family. This is a family that values bravery, loyalty, integrity, imagination, learning, all things I desperately want to impart upon my girls. Mr. Penderwick is portrayed as the slightly flaky professor type, but it’s clear that he has invested deeply in his children and trusts them to live according to the values with which they’ve been brought up. “Penderwick Family Honor” is the code they all live by, the battle cry recited before challenges, the tie that binds. A lovely picture of family.
3.) I love any book that references other books. Birdsall is very well-read and I love that in an author. She does a great job of peppering her stories with literary references that enable her readers to figure out what she’s all about as a writer and a reader, too. Reading The Penderwicks was a jumping-off point for me to revisit some old favorites and to explore some new things. (Ivy and Bean is a new love of mine, thanks to Birdsall.)
4.) In a sea of books marketed toward girls that are just pure syrup and sparkles, The Penderwicks portrays an idea of girlhood that isn’t shackled to princesses or fairies, but also doesn’t stray so far in the other direction that the girls are all doing very masculine things because they’re trying to prove a point.
Jane is a hopeless romantic who also happens to kick butt on the soccer field. Rosalind has a bit of a crush on a boy, but doesn’t swoon herself silly. I think Birdsall really “gets” the complexities of childhood and it’s apparent in her characters. These are girls who you’d want your own daughter (or son) to be friends with.
And speaking of which, the girls collectively befriend Jeffrey, the son of the snobby socialite who owns Arundel. Their friendship with Jeffrey makes the real meat of the book and it’s nice to see such a healthy friendship develop between them all. The girls adopt Jeffrey as one of their own and are loyal to him without question. The fact that he’s a boy and they’re all girls doesn’t matter at all because none of them are icky caricatures of “how children are” but rather are great examples of what childhood can be. If I were to make a list of books that girls should read, this would definitely be included.
5.) It’s a series! There are currently three Penderwicks books published, with Birdsall working on number four and planning for a total of five in the series. Huzzah! The second and third books are just as lovely as the first. The second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is hilarious…
…and number three, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is a tear jerker and, incidentally, made me want to listen to a lot of Copland, which is never a bad thing.
As usual, I urge you to get thee to a library and quickly, too! Get more information about the books at Jeanne Birdsall’s website and read some hints about book numero four here!
If you’ve already fallen in love with the Penderwicks, let’s chat it up in the comments! Who is your favorite character? What’s your favorite shenanigan the girls and Jeffrey get into? No spoilers, please!