THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall

This past weekend, we kicked off Year 4 of our Mother-Daughter book club, which I have organized for my now 9 year-old girls and some of their friends since they were in first grade. Since the books that the girls are reading are now longer and more substantial, I am going to review them on EDIWTB. (And they are great books!)

Here is our schedule for the year:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patersin

Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

The Penderwicks is a very sweet book about a family of four daughters who rent a home in the Berkshires for a summer vacation, along with their gentle but neglectful father and their faithful dog, Hound. The sisters – Rosalind (12), Skye (11), Jane (10) and Batty (4) – are quite different from each other, but they stick together and look out for each other, especially because their father is most usually absent, studying plants. Soon after arriving at the rental home, the sisters befriend Jeffrey, the son of the house’s owner, whose snobby and autocratic mother, Mrs. Tifton, wants to send him off to military school. Jeffrey, a musician, is afraid to stand up to his mother, and opts to spend his time with the sisters, exploring his mother’s expansive gardens and enjoying long summer days.

My daughters and I really enjoyed this book, which has a an old-fashioned feel to it. Although the book was written in 2005, and at one point Jane types a book she’s written into a computer, the book feels almost timeless. The girls have a lot of adventures throughout the book, but they are never in any real danger. They enjoy gentle pleasures like gingerbread, bunnies, and a first crush, and when they do face a real problem – Jeffrey running away from home to avoid the fate his mother has chosen for him – it is ultimately resolved in a constructive and positive way.

We had a great discussion about the book¬† – the longest we’ve ever had in three years of book club. The girls liked talking about parent-child relationships, what happens when older kids are responsible for younger ones, the differences between the siblings, why so many books have dead or absent mothers, and the most provocative question of all: do parents always know what is best for their kids? Most of the girls rated the book somewhere between an 8 and 10 (out of 10), with a few rating it “9.999999999 million”. I think this was one of the most universally liked book we’ve read. (Incidentally, it won the National Book Award in 2005).

If you’re looking for a book for late elementary-school readers, give The Penderwicks a try. And stay tuned for more Mother-Daughter Book Club posts as the year progresses!