Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Main characters: Rosalind, Jane, Skye, and Batty Penderwick
Location: Massachusetts
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: J Fiction, Family
Sequel to: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

The delightful Penderwick family is back. The story starts with a flashback to the hospital where the mother is dying of cancer. She writes a letter to her husband, asking him to start dating, and gives it to Claire to pass on in about 3 or 4 years. Jump forward 3 or 4 years, and the family is anticipating a visit from their beloved Aunt Claire. But Claire chooses this visit to pass on the letter.

The girls are dismayed at the thought of their father dating and possibly even re-marrying. After all, they've watched Rosalind's friend Anna go through too many stepmothers to count, and they all remember the disgusting Dexter, stepfather of their friend Jeffrey from the first book. Their father is no less dismayed at the thought of dating, though he agrees to go out with at least four women before he calls it quits. The girls know they have to come up with a plan that allows them to maintain the Penderwick family honor without risking a horrible stepmother.

But that's not all they have to contend with. There are soccer rivalries, first crushes, switching homework, and Batty's mysterious Bug Man (who may or may not be in her imagination.) There's also the nice new neighbor and her darling baby boy to balance out all whatever unpleasantness arises.

There is a warm, comforting quality to these books that is reminiscent of older, much beloved titles such as the Melendy family books, the Ramona books, or the Moffat family books. Whatever crises the family goes through, the reader knows that all will turn out well and that the strong love these sisters and their father have will not waver. I hope that Jeanne Birdsall plans to write more stories about them.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is on the 2009-2010 Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee list.

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