Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Penderwicks: Family-Friendly Books for Real Families

I’ve saved for years a quote I read about the notorious Mitford sisters, authors & social butterflies in mid-20th century Britain. When in the 1960s Decca was asked to comment on Nancy's statement, ''Sisters are a shield against life's cruel adversity,'' Decca replied, ''But sisters are life's cruel adversity!”

Anyone with a sister can laugh and agree with both statements; I should know, because I have four sisters (and a brother, but that’s a different kind of cruel adversity).  I was inspired last week to go look up and share that quote when the prolific and inimitable Faith & Family editor Danielle Bean “tweeted” about a phone conversation with her sister. 

And then I thought about that quote, and sisters, again, as our family anxiously awaited the 3rd Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette, released today.  I have not started reading it yet, but as I mentioned previously, we have a hardback that should arrive in today’s mail and already multiple Kindle-App versions to read, and I’m hoping that will provide peace in our house as it did for the wonderful final installment in the Ranger’s Apprentice series.  I’m pretty sure with the demands of the rest of the week ahead, it will be the weekend before I take my turn with the sisters Penderwick and their adventures.  But that won’t stop me being happy just to have it around, and enjoy hearing about it from the younger readers at our house.

So, if you are not familiar with them, what is so great about the Penderwicks? 

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy is the first book in the series that I dearly hope will be long and wonderful

Jeanne Birdsall “gets” the joy of family life, as well as its “cruel adversity.”  It’s annoying to have sisters, and yet there is nothing better.  Her books are a modern version of all the best sort of timeless family-friendly books about family, from E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, to Half-Magic by Edward Eager, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, and a host of others.

There’s a kind of wry acknowledgment in this genre of book that being part of a family is one of the best things and worst things ever, at the same time.  It’s not quite as nice, and therefore more true-life, than Little House on the Prairie, but not depressing as the hype-realism I so dislike in modern fiction for kids. 

Indeed, Birdsall’s website has quotes on every page from some of these books and other authors, and she writes of being influenced by them.   To be brief, reading Jeanne Birdsall books makes you a better, happier person.  If you haven’t had the great good fortune to discover this author, please do so.  And to Jeanne Birdsall, consider this a personal plea from a family who loves your writing—please keep writing Penderwicks books!

Until I can get a chance to read what I’m sure is the wonderful new book by (because Pragmatic Mom, lucky her and her girls, had an early, review copy, loved it) , here are some choice quotes from the first two books, The Penderwicks, and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street:

“Maybe it's fate that Hound ate the map.  Maybe we'll discover something wonderful while we're lost,” said Jane.

We'll discover that when I'm in the backseat for too long with my younger sisters, I go insane and murder them."

"Steady, troops," said Mr. Penderwick.  “Rosalind, how about a game?"

Just like that, Skye's temper was gone, and she didn’t care. For what good was a temper if you couldn't throw it away when your sister was being kneed in the ribs?
"Then I guess I'm ready. I who am about to die salute you,” said Mr. Penderwick.  

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