For years I saw The Penderwicks on my local library shelf but never read it. Or the second one when it came out. But my son did--and loved them both. In fact, he finished the third one before me too. It wasn't until I noticed an unblemished, hardcover copy of The Penderwicks at Half-Price Books for $4.98 that I took the plunge. And I'm in love. With all of them. When I finished the first, I immediately drove to the library and checked out the second and third. And smacked my palm to my forehead at what I'd been missing.
The premise: The four Penderwick sisters live with their botanist father (their mother died four years prior to the opening story) and their silly dog Hound. The sisters are ages 12, 11, 10, and 4 when we first meet them, and they're spending two weeks at a cottage on the huge Arundel estate. Here they meet Jeffrey, who becomes an honorary Penderwick and best friend. The girls embark upon an adventure to save him from his mother and her plans for Jeffrey's life. In the second book, the sisters plan to save their father from dating, and in the third, Jeffrey rejoins the Penderwicks on another summer vacation where all kinds of changes encounter the sisters and Jeffrey.
What keeps readers reading: Delightfully real and rounded characters who live a believable life. The sisters--Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty--are unique and each is given a voice in the stories. Jeanne Birdsall uses their varying points of view, even Hound at times, to share the adventures of this charming family. The sisters get in all sorts of scrapes, trouble, and hard places as they deal with growing up. And even though the family has four sisters, there are many boy characters involved which rounds out the all-girl family. A soft humor is wielded throughout The Penderwick series which provides laughs along with the bumps of life.
If, like me, you're a late-comer to The Penderwicks, never fear, these tales are truly timeless--and so quintessentially middle grade. I eagerly await Jeanne Birdsall's next installment!
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Happy middle grade reading!