Chapter Books – The Penderwicks

The four Penderwick sisters – almost-teenager Rosalind, mathematical Skye, distracted writer Jane, and baby sister Batty – are delighted when their father finds a rental cottage in the Berkshires. Together with their dog Hound, the family plans to spend a restful three-week summer vacation. But the upcoming weeks are eventful and chaotic, pretty much anything but restful. Once they’ve arrived at the cottage, they find it is part of a huge mansion’s grounds, and that the boy living there, Jeffrey, is a great friend. But unfortunately for Jeffrey, his mother and soon-to-be stepfather are not nearly so nice. It’s up to the girls to come up with a plan to save Jeffrey from military boarding school.

The child characters were all superbly drawn, and all completely three-dimensional. Rosalind, though clearly the “responsible” one, as she feels she must take care of her younger sisters, is also a dreamer with a crush on the young gardener. Skye is beautiful and short-tempered, but also brilliant. And while Jane’s true passion is writing and creating ridiculously over-the-top stories (many of which were embarrassingly similar to “books” I wrote myself at that age) she’s also a star soccer player. The girls are allowed to move beyond stereotypes of what it means to be a “writer girl” or “the responsible one” or “the girly one with a crush” and into the realm of real girls with a multitude of interests.

While there it’s hard to point to any particular scene, and certainly I never laughed aloud, there is a general feeling of humor throughout much of the book. This is partly helped along by the occasionally far-fetched plot. While the children are spot-on, the fact that they are living on the grounds of a mansion, or that Jeffrey, in this day and age, is worried about being sent to military boarding school, seem a little much at times. But the rest of the writing is so perfect, it’s very easy to simply overlook these very slight faults.

Notes on the cover: This cover frustrates me because either one of the girls has much shorter hair than I’d thought and Jeffrey is missing or Jeffrey is part of the cover and one of the girls is missing. Why put four of the five main characters on the cover and not the fifth? Otherwise, the cover is excellent. The silhouettes are very effective, and the active motion of the characters suggest a fast-moving plot and lots of action, which will appeal to children.

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