If you haven't already met the four garrulous Penderwick girls in the first book, The Penderwicks, you'll want to stop right here and get a copy. If you have read it, then you already consider yourself a literary friend of motherly and sensible Rosalind (12), science and sports-minded Skye (11), aspiring author Jane (10), and animal-loving Batty (4). In that first book, the Penderwick sisters spent three idyllic summer weeks at a cottage in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, part of a country estate called Arundel. There they became friends with a boy named Jeffrey Tifton, who lives in the mansion there.
The sequel, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, which can stand alone, takes place after the girls return home and start back to school in the fall. Did I like this one even better than the first book? I believe I did. It begins with a heartbreaking prologue, looking back on a pivotal event in all of their lives-the death of their mother of cancer only two weeks after Batty was born. Now, four years and four months later, the girls and their father are coping quite well, really. Then a bombshell hits with the arrival of Aunt Claire, Daddy's sister. She has a letter for him that she's kept these past four years, written by his wife before she died, expressing the hope that he will date again, and it sends them all into a tailspin. Daddy, a mild-mannered botany professor, reluctantly promises Aunt Claire he will go out on several dates.
Worried about being saddled with an awful stepmother, the girls call an emergency MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters). They come up with a simple solution: the Save Daddy plan to fix him up with the most awful women on earth so he won't consider getting remarried. It all backfires bigtime, of course, though in a most satisfying way. Each chapter in this warmly comical family saga focuses on a different sister. Rosalind is starting to like her football-obsessed neighbor, Tommy, as more than just an old friend; Skye is trying and failing to control her anger on the soccer field; Jane writes a play for Skye's Aztec assignment in social studies, and the teacher loves it so much, they're going to stage it with a reluctant Skye as the star; and Batty has befriended the new people next door-a toddler named Ben and his widowed mom, an astrophysicist. You'll find yourself wanting to spend your day chez Penderwick; luckily, the author is planning three more books in the series.
Your kids will want to mull over which Penderwick they would most like to be friends with and why; they're all so different but each is memorable in her own way. It's full of surprises, this often laugh-out-loud book, and it feels comfortable like an old shoe, reminiscent of those wonderful old family books like The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright and The Moffats by Eleanor Estes.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: FAMILY LIFE. FATHERS.
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up