This was a totally delightful children's book, complete with a lovely old-fashioned feel. Like many of the children's and YA books floating around the house, I read a description of this one and decided that my crew needed to have it always available to them in case reading inspiration should strike. And like any other book I have waved enticingly under their adorable noses, they have snubbed this book without a second glance. So I had to read it. And I am so very, very glad that I did because it is simply charming. Now I just have to come up with an underhanded and completely sneaky way to get the intended audience to read it too. Even if they don't, I want the sequel!
The Penderwicks are four sisters, a father, and one large, scruffy dog. The book opens with the family driving into their rented summer cottage tucked at the back of the estate of the rather snobbish, intolerant Mrs. Tipton and her very lonely son, Jeffrey. The bulk of the novel focuses on the madcap escapades of the girls and Jeffrey as they traipse through the summer, annoying Mrs. Tipton and causing their absent-minded botanist father to emerge from behind his policy of benign neglect. From 12 year old Rosalind's crush on the young gardener to 4 year old Batty's love of wearing butterfly wings and refusal to speak to strangers, from budding writer Jane's tendency towards melodrama to Skye's enmity, competition, and friendship with Jeffrey, this novel has the feel of being the latest entry in the beautiful children's literature of yesteryear.
The conflict here is, of course, Mrs. Tipton's blindness towards what makes the rather sad Jeffrey happiest and her desire to impose her strict and joyless life even on the free-spirited Penderwicks. The plot is more a series of connected scenes than a novel in the strictest sense but in this lighthearted book of adventures, this works. The childrens' characters are all nicely defined and while the adults are more stereotypical, they are by no means the focus of this sweet chronicle of friendship. I highly recommend this book for the young and young at heart, especially those who like a nostalgic feel to their children's literature.