The Penderwicks in Rockville Village

by Kathleen on September 18, 2012

I love a good fantasy novel as much as anyone.  Ditto fairy tales, magical realism, and post-apocalyptic dystopias.  But there’s something about an old-fashioned family story that gets me every time – and judging by the number of times we’ve read and listened to The Penderwicks this month, my children agree.

The Penderwicks are four sisters – Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty (much younger and always accompanied by her big, goofy Hound) – and their bespeckled botanist father.  Mrs. Penderwick died when Batty was just a baby, but we come to know her, too, through Rosalind’s nightly stories to Batty and the various ways in which Skye is or isn’t her spitting image.

The first book is the kind of lovely summer story where everything and nothing happens, where the days’ adventures are dotted with MOPS and MOOPS (that’s Meeting Of Penderwick Sisters and Meeting Of Older Penderwick Sisters, when Batty is excluded), and where the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) is the undisputed authority.

It’s tempting to call a story like this simple, but there’s nothing more complicated than painting a true family portrait, and Jeanne Birdsall does it perfectly.  From thoughtful, responsible Rosalind and rational, driven Skye to dreamy, creative Jane and adorable, insightful Batty, the sisters are distinct and real.  They drive each other crazy, they threaten murder and worse, but they love and defend each other fiercely.  That’s what Penderwick Family Honor is all about.

There’s more of a driving plot to the second book – Mr. Penderwick is reluctantly beginning to date, and the horrified sisters have no choice but to embark on the Save Daddy Plan – but The Penderwicks on Gardam Street has the same expansive quality as the first.  The third – The Penderwicks at Point Mouette does too, with the tremendous bonus of a summer in Maine.  (One book blog features this picture of “the real Point Mouette,” and though the name is fictionalized, the view is awfully familiar.)

It’s nothing less than a gift to be pulled into this world, and there is something here for everyone.  Tessa relates alternately to Rosalind (it’s so hard to be the oldest sister!), to Skye (math! more math!), and to Jane (books! more books!).  Calder feels a kinship with Batty – they are both the littlest, and the most insightful.  I’m crazy about them all, and awed by Jeanne Birdsall’s accomplishment.

We are a family in love.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: