Girls of a Feather

Newberys Read This Year: 4

Newberys Left for Goal: 11

Newberys Left for Total: 25


Book: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Audience: C

Genre: Fiction

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpgOne Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am drawn to sister books. The March, Mitford, Bennet, Ingalls and countless other sister combinations are among my favorite novels and works of nonfiction, holding some kind of charm for me. I can add the Penderwick sisters to that list.

Like the March sisters, there are 4 Penderwicks. Rosalind the eldest looks after the three others, especially since the death of their mother. Next-in-line Skye is all about sports and math. Jane is the romantic who dreams of authorship, and little Batty is shy, has an unusual affinity for Hound, the family dog, and is generally charming in a 4-year-old way. For three weeks, the girls and their botany professor father are spending their vacation in the guest house on an estate in western Massachusetts. This of course means that the girls will have all kinds of adventures.

Again, as with the March sisters, I found ways to identify with each sister. Meg March may long for splendid things, but she finds great pleasure in the comforts of home and hearth—I’m a bit of a homebody as well. Rosalind develops a crush on older boy Cagney, only to realize that he regards her as a kid—been there. Jo March wants to leave her mark on the world as a writer and is just a bit different from the rest of the girls—I would love to be a writer and I’ve never been quite like the typical popular girl set. Skye shares this quality of being different from other girls with both Jo and me. Beth March plays the piano and loves music, as do I, and Jane writes stories (as I did as a kid) and loves reading (as I did and do). And finally, Amy March, Batty Penderwick and I are all the youngest in our families, the ones that others feel a need to take care of, whether feel we need them to or not.

Obviously, as I read this book, I was reminded of Little Women. Both books encompass alliance and rivalry, home spirit, adventure, secret sister societies, befriending a lonely neighbor boy, and wanting to grow up while also wanting to never leave childhood. Yet The Penderwicks is its own story, not a retelling of Miss Alcott’s classic. Characters and plots are vastly different. Rather, both books capture the same spirit of innocence and growing pains, sisterhood and individuality. They are gentle and realistic but without the over-the-top sensationalism that is so often used because “it sells.”

For all their charm, the Penderwicks do have a drawback or two. I know their father is a professor who encourages their intellect and speaks Latin to them quite a bit, but the sisters seem a little too articulate for girls of their age. This makes their dialog occasionally sound contrived. I’m not sure if child readers would pick up on this, but it did stand out at times to me.

But this is a small criticism for an otherwise enchanting book. And just as Miss Alcott followed up her masterpiece with two sequels, Miss Birdsall has written additional Penderwick adventures. I look forward to being charmed by them as well.