The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, 2004, Book Review

The Penderwick family is one of those families you want to be a part of. Twelve-year-old Rosalind, with her common sense and maturity, has done a fine job mothering her sisters since their mother’s death. Sky, one year younger, athletic, tomboyish and hot-tempered, keeps things stirred up. Jane, age 10, has enough imagination for the lot of them and often overlaps real life with the book she’s always writing. Batty, the baby at age 4, dearly loves her dog, Hound, and the butterfly wings she never takes off. Then there’s Mr. Penderwick, a kind-hearted plant-lover who seems perpetually bewildered at having to raise four daughters.

When their normal vacation spot doesn’t work out, the Penderwicks rent a cottage behind Arundel Hall, a vast, sprawling estate with beautiful gardens and lots of acreage. Arundel is also the home of Jeffery, a lonely rich boy with a sense of adventure all his own, and Jeffery’s mother, Mrs. Tifton, who gives the Wicked Witch of the West some pretty fair competition.

Jeffery and the girls find plenty of adventure, but it isn’t the heart-stopping, slang-spouting, technology-driven type. It’s sweeter and more old-fashioned. Family sticks together, friends squabble and make up, and life always has a safety net. Except, perhaps, for when they’re chased by the bull. Or when Batty disappears. Or when Mrs. Tifton goes on the war path. Yes, definitely not then. But there’s always the feeling that the Penderwicks can master anything if they stick together.

I knew nothing about this book other than that it won an award (National Book Award, 2005) and it was available from the library for my Kindle. Had I read the blurb, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up to read with my boys. It moved a little slowly and just didn’t have a boy kind of feel to it, especially with four girls as the main characters. But had I not picked it up, I would have lost a great opportunity, because my guys were riveted by this story.

So I’ll recommend The Penderwicks as a read-aloud for ages 6-9. It has a lot of charm, a beautiful setting, and a refreshing feeling of innocence.

14 thoughts on “The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, 2004, Book Review

  1. I LOVED this book and the sequel, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. I thought that Jeanne Birdsall captures the girls’ differing points of view superbly. I loved each of the characters! A very charming story. I highly recommend the audio books as they are beautifully narrated.

  2. My son read all three of these before I read even one, and he loved them–like your guys did! Speaks to the great writing, characters, and the timeless quality of the story, I think. I have since read all three and count them among my favorite in middle grade stories.

  3. Michelle, this sounds like my kind of story. I knew of the Penderwick series, but had not read them. They sound timeless and oh, so refreshing. It must be a good book if your boys enjoyed listening to girls. Must check one out.

  4. I can’t move this one at all in the middle school, although from what I hear it does well at the elementary level.

    1. I would believe that. It’s kind of a young story. The reading level is maybe fifth or sixth grade, but in the age of Percy Jackson, the story appeal probably tops out there. That’s why I recommended it as a read aloud for the younger ones.

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