Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Book #1) by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwick sisters - sensible Rosalind, 12, Skye, 11 and the only blue-eyed sister, Jane 10 and a budding writer and the creator of the Sabrina Starr stories, and shy Batty, 4 the wearer of orange and black wings, are off on a vacation with their widowed dad and their dog Hound at a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts called Arundel. Rented for three weeks, sight unseen, the Penderwicks certainly didn't expect it to be a huge mansion at the end of a long driveway. Luckily the gardener, Cagney, 18ish, is there to direct them to the cottage way at the back of the extensive estate.  Just before they leave to find the cottage, Jane spots a boy looking out of one of the mansion's windows.

The next day, Skye decides to go exploring and overhears the estate's owner, the officious Mrs. Tifton, telling Cagney to get rid of a beautiful rosebush.  Skye, whose father is a botanist, suggests he replant the rosebush outside the cottage.  On her way home, she runs into into the boy from the window, literally, knocking him out, then telling him to stay away from the very mean Mrs. Tifton.  It doesn't take long to discover that the boy is Jeffrey Tifton, 11 year-old only son of the estates cold-hearted owner.  But it is Jane who is sent to the mansion to apologize for Skye's remarks about his mother, and who brings him back to the cottage with her.  After a rocky start, it turns out that Jeffrey is a perfect fit for the Penderwick sister's adventures.

Unfortunately, events at Jeffrey's birthday party, a rather stiff affair to begin with, set the stage for Mrs. Tifton to really dislike the Penderwick sisters and she isn't very happy about her son being friends with them.  Mrs. Tifton has decided that she is going to remarry and wants to send Jeffrey to a military school in Pennsylvania so he can become a general and follow in her beloved father's footsteps.  Gentle-soul Jeffrey wants to study music, but his mother forbids that.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey, Jane and Skye become great friends, practicing archery, playing soccer and just having fun.  Batty is invited over to Cagney's house to visit his two bunny rabbits every day, with whom she immediately falls in love, and Rosalind is only too happy to take her, having developed a crush on the gardener - even if he is too old for her.

Now, Mrs. Tifton wants nothing more than to win her Garden Club's competition this year and so she is very particular about what is done to them by Cagney, spending a lot of her time fussing around the gardens.  As I said, she isn't a very nice person, and has little regard for what her son wants, in fact, doesn't even see him as a unique person at all, just an extension of her and her father.  As her dislike for the sisters increases, she finally forbids Jeffrey from seeing them, but when things go terrible wrong with her hopefully-soon-to-be-prize-winning gardens, she and her fiancĂ© decide it's time to take Jeffrey visit that military school.

And just when it looks like Jeffrey's military school fate is sealed, the Penderwick sisters come up with a plan.  Will they be able to help their new friend?

One lonely boy, one smart, well-intentioned dog, a raucous soccer game, a garden club competition, two rabbits, and four Penderwicks - clearly the stage is set for all kinds of adventures, some that are fun, others that are disastrous, but all together resulting in a truly wonderful story about family life.

For reasons I can't even imagine now, I put off reading The Penderwicks for a long, long time, despite having heard rave reviews about it.  But one rainy day, I picked it up and no sooner had I started reading then the strangest feeling kept coming over me.  I knew I was reading a modern story, after all, Mr. Penderwick and Jane both use a computer (no cell phone in evidence, though), yet I kept feeling like the action took place in the past. It just had that nice, nostalgic kind of feeling to it that took me right back to my 11 year-old self.  How could you not love a book that can do that?

Jeanne Birdsall has managed to write a delightful, gentle, character-driven novel that manages to give full voice to all four of the Penderwick sisters, and even Hound, though his voice is translated by Batty. We don't see much of Mr. Penderwick, a Latinist after my own heart, nor are we privy to his thoughts, yet despite that, he is still feels like a fully realized character.

If you haven't read a Penderwicks book yet, you are in for a delightful experience.  The Penderwicks would pair nicely with The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy, another character-driven story about four brothers, their dads, and family life.

Now, I can't wait to read The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Book #2) and all the others.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library


  1. Sounds interesting.....I am very familiar with the area.

    1. I have relatives up that way also and I just love the Berkshires. This is a sweet, gentle novel with great characters in a wonderful setting. It made me feel happy when I read it.

  2. YAY! It is always nice to see someone enjoy a book I love. The second and fourth books are my favorites in the series though, which is interesting as they are the two that take place during the school year. But I like when the Gieger boys are around and when we get to see Martin actually parenting (which he is good at for the most part).

    1. I can't wait to read the other books in this series. Jeanne Birdsall came to our Bank Street Book Fest last year and I think that's what finally made me want to read about the Penderwick sisters. Thanks for the heads up - gives me good stuff to look forward to.

  3. I so love this series! I've read all but the latest.

    1. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that you love this series - in fact I thought of you and your farm when I was reading it for some reason - both seem to have a certain tranquility even in chaos and mishaps.


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