Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

If you haven't already met the Penderwicks, you are missing out. Jeanne Birdsall has managed to write a children's middle grade book series that is both current and sweetly harks back to the gentle and lovely books of a half a century or more ago. Her latest book, The Penderwicks in Spring, is the fourth and penultimate in the series and has a slightly different focus than the first three. The central characters are no longer the older Penderwick girls: Rosalind is off at college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers in their final years of high school. Batty, the youngest Penderwick, the one who used to tag along after her older sisters wearing butterfly wings and accompanied by her faithful dog Hound, is now the oldest of the younger Penderwicks what with her father having remarried, bringing brother Ben into the family and then adding yet another Penderwick girl, toddler extraordinaire, the engaging Lydia.

Batty is very conscious of her place as the oldest of the younger set and now that she's in fifth grade, she understands and internalizes the worries of the adults. Money is as tight as ever and rather than add to that concern, when Batty, who is quite musical and has developed a very pretty voice, wants voice lessons she decides to find a job to pay for them herself, creating Penderwick Willing to Work. But the work that comes her way is work she does not want; it's dog walking. When the novel opens, Hound has been gone for six months and Batty is certain that it is her fault he died. So dog walking makes her nervous for her charges' welfare and makes her desperately miss the wonderful Hound. This would be enough for any sensitive child but added to that is the fact that Jeffrey, the friend the girls made in the first book and Batty's dear friend in particular and musical mentor, is not coming around much because of complications in his Penderwick relationship.  Then Batty overhears a terrible secret not meant for her ears that utterly devastates her and this once happy go lucky little girl is not so happy go lucky anymore.

The Penderwick family is as delightful as ever. The problems that beset them are universal and yet grounded firmly in the here and now. The entire feel of the book is charming and Birdsall manages to capture the innocence and worries of childhood without minimizing them at all. The book is brimming with emotion and reading about Hound's death and how Batty handles it will make even the hardest hearted reader sob. Each of the characters, even those who are only one the page for a brief time, are well drawn and complete characters.  As always, I wanted to just crawl into the pages and live with the Penderwicks myself.

1 comment:

  1. Oh - I must get the first book in this series. It looks as if it would be comparable to my all-time favourite: the "Saturdays" trilogy by Elizabeth Enright. (The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, & Then There Were Five) Thanks for pointing me to the Penderwicks!


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