Summer is the perfect time for enchantment and adventure. First-time author Jeanne Birdsall delivers both with ease in her fanciful new novel, The Penderwicks, in which four very different sisters spend a summer vacation with their faithful dog, Hound, and their botany professor father, who takes his daughters' adventures in stride and has a penchant for quoting Latin.
The Penderwick sisters include gentle Rosalind, 12, who experiences her first unrequited love; stubborn Skye, 11, who excels at sports and is teaching herself algebra; daydreamer Jane, 10, who is constantly thinking of the next episode in her Sabrina Starr stories; and spirited Batty, 4, who goes nowhere without her butterfly wings. Having lost their mother to a terminal illness just after Batty was born, the sisters have formed a fierce bond.
The setting of their unforgettable summer vacation is a cottage on the Arundel estate. While Mrs. Tifton, the icy owner of the mansion, forbids the "uncouth" children to play in her sprawling gardens, her son, Jeffrey, immediately befriends the sisters. When they learn that the fatherless and musically talented boy is going to be shipped off to a military school, the Penderwick sisters make it a mission to save Jeffrey from a horrific fate.
If not for a few rare mentions of computers and other modern-day gadgets, readers might think this nostalgic novel takes place decades ago. Whether rescuing escaped rabbits or Batty from a bull's pen, barging into Mrs. Tifton's garden competition, searching through attic trunks to find vintage dresses to wear to Jeffrey's birthday party, eating homemade gingerbread or shooting rubber-tipped arrows at a cutout of Mrs. Tifton's fiancé, the girls' adventures are always endearing and fun. And in the course of the summer, the sisters come to realize their own talents, challenges and changes.
The first cool nights of fall sadly remind us that summer is over. The conclusion of The Penderwicks leaves you with that same wistful feeling: if only the magic of friends and family could continue a little longer. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Fall
Along with their loving but preoccupied botanist father and a clumsy dog, the motherless Penderwick sisters spend their summer holiday in the Massachusetts Berkshires in a rose-covered cottage on the grounds of a mansion. Suffused with affectionate humor, this charming, old-fashioned story feels familiar in the way the best books seem like old friends. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #4
"Summer afternoon -- summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language," Henry James wrote. Surely the motherless Penderwick sisters -- responsible Rosalind, twelve; feisty Skye, eleven; creative Jane, ten; and shy Batty, four -- would agree. Along with their loving but preoccupied botanist father and a clumsy dog named Hound, they spend their summer holiday in the Massachusetts Berkshires in a rose-covered cottage on the grounds of a mansion called Arundel Hall. A fast friendship develops between the girls and Jeffrey, the only child of Arundel's icy owner, Mrs. Tifton. The adventures the children share over the next three weeks include much sneaking in and out of Mrs. Tifton's prize-winning gardens. Although Birdsall draws Mrs. Tifton and her snooty beau Dexter as one-dimensional, writer's muscle supports the entrancing sisters, who behave just as real children would, arguing, calling each other names, and disobeying adults. Suffused with affectionate humor, this charming, old-fashioned story feels familiar in the way the best books seem like old friends. The Penderwicks call to mind Edward Eager's quartet of siblings as well as those in Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays; shades of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden appear in Arundel's off-limits gardens and lonely Jeffrey Tifton. Nostalgic but never stale, this fresh, satisfying novel is like a cool breeze on a summer's day. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 June #1
Echoes of Alcott contribute to the intimate charm of this story of "summer and magic and adventure." Not since the Marches have readers met more engaging girls than the Penderwicks: Rosalind, 12, pretty and practical; Skye, 11, smart and blue-eyed; Jane, ten, aspiring author, whose alter ego, Sabrina Starr, is fearless and clever; and butterfly wing-wearing Batty, four. Dear Father is a botanist, fond of spouting witticisms in Latin; Mommy is in heaven. This year, vacation will be spent at the cream-colored cottage at Arundel, estate of snooty Mrs. Tifton, whose house is "like a museum, only without armed guards." Unless she has a change of heart, Jeffrey, her gentle, music-loving only child, is doomed to be sent to Pencey Military Academy, "Where Boys Become Men and Men Become Soldiers." Despite a few mishaps, the children become fast friends and partners in the sorts of lively plots and pastoral pastimes we don't read much about these days. Their adventures and near-disasters, innocent crushes, escaped animals, owning-up and growing up (and yes, changes of heart) are satisfying and not-too-sweet. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 July #4
This timeless tale from a first-time author introduces the thoroughly likable Penderwicks, on vacation in a rental cottage on Arundel, a sprawling Massachusetts estate. Their spirited family dynamics and repartee call to mind those in Hilary McKay's novels, and the sisters' delightfully diverse personalities propel the plot. For instance, when they pull up to the estate's mansion, 10-year-old Jane feels certain she has spied a "lonely boy" in a window and promptly begins a novel about him once they reach their cottage. Skye, 11, elated to have her own room with two beds (she plans to use both), immediately "wrote the bed schedule next to her favorite word problem about trains traveling in different directions." Batty, a shy four-year-old, faithfully wears her butterfly wings and is devoted to her dog, Hound (who "insisted on licking faces in the middle of the night"). The girls' loving, amusingly distracted father is a botany professor with a fondness for spouting Latin phrases. Rosalind, the oldest at 12, has looked after the others since their mother's death (shortly after Batty's birth), and when she meets gentle Cagney, the estate's teenage gardener, he captures her heart. The "lonely boy" turns out to be sensitive, sincere Jeffrey, a talented musician. Tension arises when Jeffrey's pretentious mother and her fiancâ€š decide to send the boy to military school. Certain to be as sorry as the sisters are when it's time to leave Arundel, readers will hope for a return visit from this memorable cast. Ages 8-12. (June)Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 July
Gr 4-6-This enjoyable tale of four sisters, a new friend, and his snooty mother is rollicking fun. The girls' father is a gentle, widowed botany professor who gives his daughters free reign but is always there to support or comfort them. Rosalind, 12, has become the mother figure. Skye, 11, is fierce and hot-tempered. Jane, 10, is a budding writer of mysteries who has the disconcerting habit of narrating aloud whatever is occurring around her. Batty, four, is an endearingly shy, loving child who always wears butterfly wings. The family dog, Hound, is her protector. The tale begins as the Penderwicks embark on a summer holiday in the Berkshire Mountains, at a cottage on the grounds of a posh mansion owned by the terribly snobbish Mrs. Tifton. Her son, Jeffrey, is a brilliant pianist, but her heart is set on him attending a military academy like her beloved father. The action involves Rosalind's unrequited love for the 18-year-old gardener, Skye's enmity and then friendship with Jeffrey, Jane's improvement in her melodramatic writing style, and Batty's encounter with an angry bull whom she rather hopefully calls "nice horsie." Problems are solved and lessons learned in this wonderful, humorous book that features characters whom readers will immediately love, as well as a superb writing style. Bring on more of the Penderwicks!-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.