The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

penderwickO how I love the Penderwicks! Jeanne Birdsall has totally tapped in to the perfect feeling of families I loved reading about when I was a kid (and consequently assumed when I had my own family that we would all be just like the families in The Saturdays and Gone-Away Lake and guess what? We’re not.) It’s amazing how perfectly she is writing something that feels completely old-fashioned, but is not. You won’t find a Penderwick child playing Wii, oh no. A Penderwick is exploring the woods, playing imaginative games, being a kind and loving sibling, and talking to animals. I’m afraid that the Penderwicks are basically what I want my kids to be.  Anyway, I had read the previous 3 Penderwick books as they came out and just this past month our family listened to the first book together on audio. We are now in the midst of listening (and reading aloud) the second book (Penderwicks on Gardam Street.) Consequently, it was a bit confusing to be reading about dear Batty being 4 years old and then switching over to what I was reading, in which Batty is now the main character, turning 11, Rosalind is off at college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers. The action is focused mostly on Batty, with a bit of Ben (who has only just been introduced in the chapter we’re on in Gardam Street as a toddler neighbor) and a new baby sister, Lydia. There is also a good bit of focus on Tommy, Nick, and Jeffrey.  Tommy and Nick are the neighbor boys and Nick is off in Afghanistan. In this latest book there are actually some heavy themes going on-Nick’s return from service and how that affects everyone, and even more-Batty’s grieving over the death of beloved Hound.  I admit that Batty’s grief over Hound hit too close to home for me (as we approach the 1 year anniversary of the death of my beloved dog, Pippin) and there were tears aplenty as I read this.
It was solid, touching, had humor, and was a great installment in this family series. I don’t know if my kids will want to treasure and re-read these books, but I feel inclined to buy a boxed set as soon as this new one is in paperback too. Oh-and if I wish that my kids could be like the Penderwicks, then I also wish Paul and I were like the Penderwick parents-calm, unflappable, lovable, and with really cool jobs.

My Year in Reading

This year I simultaneously fell behind on this blog and started using GoodReads. I resolve to get caught up here this winter. Due to that I had a hard time this year counting exactly how many titles I read, but I believe it was 75–not bad!  That does not count all the audiobooks we listened to-this was the year we enjoyed listening to children’s stories in the car.  I loved the Beverly Clear books narrated by Stockard Channing and also by Neil Patrick Harris.  As for myself? Top reads were All Clear by Connie Willis, I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

I just can’t get enough of these Penderwicks! And you might recall I said that they reminded me of The Exiles? Well this one reminds me of The Exiles in Love.  There is just a little bit of boy-girl feelings developing.  Of course the Penderwick girl is somewhat oblivious to it, taking the boy she’s grown up with for granted.  This sequel is just as much fun as the first.  Who wouldn’t want to be a party of this loving, smart, talented, funny family?  In this follow up the girls’ father has agreed that he will go on four dates to give dating a try (it’s been 4 years since his beloved wife died and she left a letter telling him she wanted  him to do this.)  The girls are horrified and embark on a scheme to have him go on horrible dates that will turn him off of it all together.  Meanwhile they all make friends with their new neighbor, a young widow and her baby boy.  I bet you can see where this is going…. It is extremely obvious to the reader that the young woman is the ideal partner for their father.  The obviousness does not detract from the charm at all, though.  It’s a somewhat strange blend of contemporary and old fashioned.  As before, I loved the details of the girls’ personalities–dreamy Jane writing a melodramatic play,   Skye playing soccer and having an alter ego who is a foul mouthed British footballer named Mick, Batty making friends with the baby, and Rosalind being blind to her neighbor falling for her.

Another charming winner.  Very much looking forward to the third book coming out in May, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

What a super charming book! It reminded me very much of Hilary McKay’s The Exiles (by the way, that link shows you a hideous cover for that book. McKay’s website shows much cuter stuff.)  It feels so British to me, but in fact it takes place in the Berkshires.

The Penderwick family consists of  4 sisters, their loving and kind father, and their big goofy dog.  Their mother died when the littlest girl, Batty (now 4), was a tiny infant.  They are spending three weeks at a cottage in the country and to their surprise it turns out to be a very large cottage on the property of an imposing mansion.  Just like in any romantic type book as they come up the drive they see the face of a boy in the window, and then it vanishes.  He turns out to be the son of the manor and jolly good fun, despite his hideous awful mother who can’t wait to pack him off to military school (he would rather be a musician.)  The girls and boy have a wonderful time together, but his mother seems them as a terrible influence.  There is much mischief, falling in ponds during garden tours and the like, and small adventures.

This was just absolutely charming and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment of their adventures.  I loved that it felt so old fashioned,though not outdated. (You’ll note I’m not the only one to love this book–it won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.)