When was the last time you read a new(er) book that felt like something pulled directly out of your childhood? How often do contemporary authors write books that sound like they're from the 50s or earlier? When was the last time you read a delightful family story that was idealistic, and yet real?
Enter the Penderwicks.
These books remind me so much of all the books I loved as a child. To me, they're most reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright and Eleanor Estes, and Jeffrey reminds me a bit of Jasper from Five Little Peppers, but that's not all. They're like E. Nesbit's Bastables, like many of Beverly Cleary's books, an updated Little Women, contain elements of Noel Streatfeild, just all the perfection of children's literature. Reading these books, I felt like a child again. Immersed in a beautiful family story, often loaded with literary references. Yes, I did kinda squeal when Emily of New Moon was mentioned. And then there was Marianne. 😆
Rosalind, Skye, Jane, Batty, they're all so unique. Rosalind is the oldest, usually the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick, except in the third book where it's Skye), the one who fills in as mom since their mother died of cancer shortly after Batty's birth. She's responsible and reliable, but she does have her own difficulties to work through. Next is Skye, math obsessed, soccer obsessed, often blunt and insensitive. She'd far rather write an essay on antibiotics than a play about the Aztecs. And that's a long story. Then comes Jane, the dreamer, the writer, also a soccer player, though sometimes she embarrasses her sister by turning into her soccer playing alter ego Mick Hart during games. And of course there's Sabrina Starr, who rescues animals, a boy, an archaeologist, but I'm not sure Jane quite succeeded in having Sabrina Starr fall in love. Last is Batty, Hound in tow, butterfly wings on her back, close to Rosalind, eventually discovering hidden musical talent, thanks to Jeffrey Tifton.
There's Jeffrey, musical genius whose domineering rich mother is determined he should go into the military like his grandfather. He also plays soccer and becomes Skye's best friend. There's Nick and Tommy Geiger across the street with Nick's sports drills and enlistment in the military, and Tommy's long-standing love for Rosalind. There's Latin-speaking professor Mr. Penderwick, who loves his daughters...but likes to reprimand in Latin. There's astrophysicist widow Ianthe next door, with her little boy Ben, a wonderful woman and a great mother. There's Aunt Claire, who pushes Mrs. Penderwick's dying wish that after four years Mr. Penderwick would start dating again. There's Ben who, when older, loves rocks and adores Nick. There's little princess-obsessed Lydia. There's domineering Mrs. Tifton who can be quite rude and is marrying the terrible Dexter Dupree. There's Rosalind's best friend Anna who gets involved in Rosalind's Save Daddy Plan, a move to prevent a stepmother. There's Alec, who has the most wonderful music room, and more to do with the story than you'd at first think.
There's Sisters and Sacrifice, "Skye's" Aztec play. There's Quigley Woods, which doesn't actually have quicksand. There are MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters) and MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters), and later MOOPSAB (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters and Ben) and MOBAB (Meeting of Batty and Ben).
I read The Penderwicks late at night when I was having a rough time and it was balm to my soul. I listened to The Penderwicks on Gardam Street while sewing and it carried me through with its wonderful adventure of home. I read The Penderwicks at Point Mouette while I was sick, and it lifted my spirits. I read The Penderwicks in Spring in spurts at night while getting back into things with a runny nose, and "it moved me, Bob."
There will be a fifth book. Someday soon, I hope. The Penderwicks are a part of me now, just like all the other similar books I loved growing up. I'm anxious to see how things turn out, now that the older girls are grown. I love them all.