Let me just say that I like the Penderwicks best when they are on vacation. Jeanne Birdsall’s first book, The Penderwicks, tracked four kids and a big sloppy dog named Hound through a summer holiday on a country estate. Plenty of misadventures and great adventures behind the hedgerows in a very charming, old-fashioned story with wonderful characters, terrific humor and the sort of British country setting (although the tale is set in New England) that enchanted me in the books I read as a child.
Birdsall’s second in the series follows them home to Gardam Street in Massachusetts and it is sweet and simple but not nearly as much fun as the summer escapades. In book three, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, the three youngest girls, Skye, Jane and Batty, are vacationing in Maine while their eldest sister Rosalind gets a much needed break from minding all of them and is off to the Jersey Shore with a friend. Their newly-married father, stepmother and her young son are on an academic business trip to England and the girls are in the care of second-eldest Penderwick, Skye, and their Aunt Claire.
This makes Skye all kinds of nervous because Rosalind has always cared for Batty, the baby, since their mother died and keeps the rest of the team in line. Skye isn’t sure she has the right stuff for the job. Their best friend Jeffrey, collected on the first summer jaunt, joins them for this one and mild disasters accumulate faster than shells on the strip of beach outside their vacation cottage. Skye studies astrophysics and black holes and practices soccer moves. Jane, next in line, is a serious writer struggling with a bad case of writer’s block over her latest Sabrina Starr novel that deals with the perils of falling in love. Small problem—the author is eleven and lacks the requisite research to get past the opening sentence. Batty (Elizabeth) has given up the fairy wings she once wore everywhere but still drags her stuffed elephants along for the trip. She must wear a bright orange life preserver whenever she gets anywhere NEAR the water, which hampers her style.
Jeffrey is happy to have eluded his difficult mother’s summer plans and sets about having adventures with the girls. A neighbor next door is a musician and invites musical prodigy Jeffrey to use his grand piano for practice. Five-year-old Batty, who trails Jeffrey everywhere and intends to marry him when she grows up, displays a surprising musical talent. Love rears its unpredictable head among the lobster rolls. Aunt Claire winds up on crutches. The girls find out that errant golf balls from the nearby club are a boon to piggy banks. And a long lost parent surfaces, causing havoc for kids and grown-ups alike.
I like the Penderwicks books. They are innocent and fun; the writing is good; the characters are real people with lots of interesting quirks; the adventures are lively. I know a few young readers who devoured the first book and still like the series, even though they are older now and the books are middle grade level. Then again, middle grade is one of my favorite book categories and I am far from the target audience. Penderwicks at home—not so fascinating. Penderwicks up to summer mischief—a recipe for a delightful read.
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette Jeanne Birdsall | Alfred A. Knopf 2011