Jeanne Birdsall has created a great series of middle reader books featuring the Penderwick family. The characters Birdsall creates are intriguing, adorably quirky, and just plain lovely. The first book, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, introduces the captivating Penderwick sisters: Rosalind, the oldest and most responsible, Skye, whipsmart and a bit rough on the edges, Jane, the storyteller, and Batty, the youngest and whose best friend is a dog named hound. You instantly love them. The first book is all about their summer adventure with a young boy, Jeffrey. The Penderwick girls save Jeffrey from the unrealistic expectations of his controlling mother and show him how to stand up for himself and follow his passion for music.
The second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, focuses much more on the interpersonal relationship between each family member. We finally discover how their mother passed away and the emotions surrounding that traumatic event but it doesn’t take over the book. Birdsall does a great job at showing and not telling how this event affects the girls and their quirky father. From the insistence of Mr. Penderwick’s sister, Mr. Penderwick begrudgingly begins the dating process again. It is a struggle for him and the girls do not much like the idea of their father dating. This second book tackles the topic of coping with loss, even if that loss occured years earlier. This description makes the book sound much heavier than it is. Birdsall’s gifted storytelling deals with this difficult issue of loss without focusing the entire book on it; instead, the book is about growing up, even coming of age, and how every person deals with loss and love in very different ways.
The third Penderwick book, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, was released in May 2011. I have yet to read this book, but I am certain it will be fantastic. I have it on my list and you should too!
Check out this interview with Jeanne Birdsall: Author Interview
Age Group: 8 and up (A great series for younger kids reading above their grade level without getting into adult-ish content!)
Genre: Middle Grade Reader
Themes: Relationships, Family, Adventure
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, imprint of Random House