Posted by: Lizzie Ross | July 1, 2011

Summer Fare

The Penderwicks (2005), Jeanne Birdsall, 262 pp.

In her author’s blurb at the end of the book, Birdsall explains that she wrote this because, when she was young, there had never been enough of the types of books that she most enjoyed. I suspect most readers feel this way. It’s certainly as good a reason as any for writing a novel.

This one is light-hearted and easy, with one major crisis and lots of high jinks. I could hear echoes of Beverly Cleary’s FifteenAnne of Green Gables, Little Women, Edith Nesbit’s fantasies, Edward Eager’s Half Magic series, and even bits of RL Stevenson. Birdsall characters are often seen reading some of these books, so the connections came as no surprise.

The basic plot is this: four sisters and their father rent a cottage in the Berkshires and meet a boy whose wealthy mother has her own plans for his future. He and the sisters enjoy a rambunctious three weeks, at the end of which — well, it resolves happily, of course, but only after a bit of melodrama and heartbreak. Two children and a rabbit go missing, parents lecture, proper feelings of guilt all around … the usual stuff. Each sister has her own quirky personalty, and Birdsall gives us each one’s point of view, including the youngest, 4-year-old Batty (a nickname for Elizabeth), who likes to wear wings.

There are computers, so the setting is relatively modern, but the children run freely outdoors, through the countryside, just like in the good old days. The comedy is the focus, despite the serious undertones — quite the contrast to anything by Zarr, especially Once Was Lost. But it’s a good contrast. Not everything needs to be dark and ultra-serious.

This is a book you can breeze through while at the beach or taking the train upstate. Will I read the sequel? Don’t know yet. When’s my next train trip?


  1. You read fun stuff. My book club just finished Bloodroot. Excellent book, but I find that I don’t get drawn in to our choices. It’s rather disappointing. I wonder if that kind of reading only happens when one is young.

  2. Yes, in my bookclub of one, I get to read what I want, all the time. Who wrote Bloodroot? What’s it about?

  3. […] one is a continuation of the Penderwicks series, with the four girls back home in western Massachusetts, attending school and dealing with […]

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