The Penderwicks and Other Children’s Books

… that I read while I had Corona a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, while I was sick, I didn’t feel so terrible that I wasn’t up to reading, but I did feel very tired (at least at first) and needed something pleasant and easy to read – so I recollected that I had been wanting to read the Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall, which I found on the blog A Book Owl’s Corner (where I also found that delightful series about owls that I read during my Christmas vacation in 2021). So, I got myself a complete collection on Kindle:

  • The Penderwicks
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
  • The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
  • The Penderwicks in Spring
  • The Penderwicks at Last
The title page of the Penderwicks collection
The Penderwicks collection

The novels tell the story of the Penderwick family, which at first consist of four girls, Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty, their initially single-parent father, and their dog, the Hound. In the first book, the family go on vacation to a lovely cottage in the country, where they meet and make friends with Jeffrey (rather to the displeasure of his uncongenial mother), who lives in a large stately home next door to their holiday cottage. The second book is all about the girls’ adventures at their own home, including their attempts to either prevent their widowed father from dating or to have him date a woman of their own choice. In the third book, three of the Penderwick sisters, as well as Jeffrey, go on holiday to the seaside, have adventures, and meet interesting new people. The third installment is again set at the family home and shines a spotlight on Batty, who goes through a bit of a crisis due to a misunderstanding with one of her sisters. Rosalind has gone away to college and there are complications with Rosalind and Skye’s boyfriends (or those who want to be their boyfriends). There are also new family members, Ben, who was already introduced in the second book, and Lydia, their half-sister. The fifth book focuses on Batty and Lydia, the two youngest sisters (although the older girls also make an appearance). They revisit the setting of the first book, but things have changed a lot…

I really enjoyed reading these books, they were perfect for my mood while I was ill. There’s a lot of normal family things going on in the books, with sibling rivalry and drama that resolves nicely. I especially liked the bits with the Hound, as they reminded me of my relationship with the dogs that were part of our family during my childhood (even, or in particular, the tragic bits). Some of the plot points, especially the relationship developments, I found quite predictable, but I still enjoyed how they were untangled. It was also nice to read about how the characters developed as they grew older throughout the series. At first it was a little jarring that the later books focus more on the development of the younger girls (while the older ones go off to college) but then it seems like a natural progression that keeps the books fresh and original.

After I had finished the series, it occurred to me that the books are in some of their themes like a modern retelling of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, especially in the family set-up and the relationship between the girls and Jeffrey. It’s a single parent family (at least at first) with four girls – Rosalind, the motherly one, rather like Meg in Little Women. Skye, the tomboyish one, like Jo (she’s also a science lover, which is a new aspect that’s not found in the earlier novel, as far as I remember). Jane, who is the would-be writer, also like Jo, but without the tomboy aspect. And Batty, who’s the baby of the family (at first), like Amy March, but who is also very musically gifted, rather like Beth. Then there’s Jeffrey, who has a relationship with the Penderwick girls very like Laurie does with the March girls. But there are also plot development that differ. For instance, the girls’ father marries again and so the family gains a brother, Ben, and a new sister, Lydia. Many other plot details differ from Little Women, but there are a lot of similar themes.

Title page of Counting by 7s
Counting by 7s

The series is lovely, and I recommend it for lovers of Little Women or wholesome family stories in general. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this series.

I devoured the series in a few days and still didn’t feel like reading anything for adult readers and so continued with a few more kid’s books:

Holly Goldberg Sloan, Counting by 7s
In this book Willow Chance, a nerdy outsider genius, who likes counting things in 7, loves gardening, and is very intellectually precocious while not having any friends at all (I guess she may be on the autism spectrum), loses her adoptive parents in an accident and finds a very unlikely new family. The story shows how circumstances can cause people to transform their lives beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s good read and a lovely uplifting story despite the tragedy at the beginning.

Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie
A very nice, low-key novel about 10-year-old Opal who adopts a stray dog, who then causes her to become more involved in the new community that she and her preacher father have just moved to. She learns things about the people she interacts with that helps her to understand them better and to build connections. It is set in the South of the US and has a very slight feel of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (but without the racial discrimination themes and also it’s set in an indefinite time that seems more modern – but without computers and social media, so it’s probably not quite contemporary). It’s apparently been made into a movie, which it might be interesting to see.

Title page of Spark

M. G. Leonard, The Twitchers series: Twitch and Spark
This is a series of three novels (but only two have been published so far) about Twitch, a young boy who loves birds, bird-watching, and nature. At the beginning of the first book, he has no friends and is bullied, but eventually events lead him to become friends with his erstwhile enemies and together they solve a crime. In the second book, Twitch and some of his friends have formed a bird-watching club and they band together to prevent criminals from harming a rare vulture. I love how these books marry the bird-watching theme with the crime plots. These books are definitively set in the present and social media plays a marginal but pivotal role, which I think is very well done. The third installment is coming out in April and I’m definitively going to read it as well.

I also read The Horse from Black Loch, an old favourite from my teenage years, which I mentioned here.

After having read and very much enjoyed these ten children’s books, my hunger for this genre was assuaged and I returned to adult novels, but that’s a topic for another post. In any case, I loved all these books and highly recommend them for those that like children’s lit or have children that might like to read them.


5 thoughts on “The Penderwicks and Other Children’s Books

  1. I’m so happy to hear you loved The Penderwicks! Those books are still some of my favorites to reread whenever I am craving something cozy 🥰 And Jeanne Birdsall did mention in an interview once that the series was inspired by Little Women, so you’re definitely not imagining the similarities!

    I also remember my teacher reading Because of Winn-Dixie to us in second grade and me having liked it then. This post brought back a lot of memories! I haven’t reread the book since, though, so I can’t really say how I’d feel about it now.

    Counting by 7s also sounds very interesting 🤔 I might have to check that one out!

    Liked by 1 person

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