The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
By Jeanne Birdsall
Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
The Penderwicks is a children's chapter book, written very much in the style of the classic 'children having children-sized adventures' format, something that has fallen out of style in recent decades.
This is the story of a family's summer vacation. The four Penderwick girls --four year old Batty, ten year old Jane, eleven year old Skye, and twelve year old Rosalind -- along with their father and their dog, travel to a countryside cottage to spend three weeks of their summer vacation. Mr. Penderwick is a botanist and spends most of his time looking for interesting plants, so the girls are left to their own devices for most of the time.
It turns out that the cottage is actually a guest cottage on a large and quite fancy estate. They shortly meet the young boy who lives there, Jeffrey, who is more than happy to have an excuse to avoid his mother and the friends she invites over to play with him. They have a number of adventures with him, including saving Batty from a bull, exploring the hidden spaces of the extensive gardens, finding treasures in the mansion's attics, and helping Jeffrey deal with his overbearing mother.
The book is written in a slightly twee fashion, which is not really popular in children's books these days. However, it will be immediately familiar to adult readers as a tip of the hat to classic children's tales, and is, apparently, not too off-putting to today's young readers. It has much the same vibe as classics like All-of-a-Kind Family, Little Women, and The Moffats, but is slightly updated for today's youth -- small touches, such as Rosalind starting to become interested in boys, and none of the girls being the classic girly-girls.
Overall, this is a very good read, likely to be fun for children and nostalgia-inducing for adults. I suspect that today's youth might find it a bit boring once they start reading about vampires and dystopian futures, which leaves it a fairly narrow window of maximum enjoyment, perhaps nine to eleven years of age. It is somewhat episodic in nature, and would make a good read aloud book, although Rosalind's interest in boys might be off-putting to younger listeners, if they are at the age where 'boyfriend' is a yucky word.
There are currently two sequels, although the series is planned to have at least five installments eventually. The second book in the series is The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.
ISBN: ISBN · 0-375-83143-6
Accelerated Reader level: 4.7