Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall - review

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. Age 6-12.

I am taking a quick break. I can take this quick break because we have 3 extra kids at the house today, giving us a grand total of 5! Sounds like a nightmare, no? But it's one of the things they don't tell you... 5 is easier than 2. They have entertained themselves all day and all I had to do was set up the Slip 'n' Slide and make a few sandwiches.

So what am I taking a break from if they're so easy? Well heck, life does go on, you know. I could be folding laundry. Weeding the garden. Marinating the fish. Sampling pretend ice cream made from the most violent shades Play-Doh has on offer. On the whole, I'd rather be doing...

...a book review! And not just any book review, a review of one of the most consistently beloved new books in recent years. Does anyone hate Jeanne Birdsall's debut novel Penderwicks? Let me look.... mmm, nope. All positive reviews, although Harold Bloom hasn't weighed in on it. The book won the National Book Award for Christ's sake. People use words like "gentle," "nostalgic," "innocent," and "not obnoxious," when they review it, and "not obnoxious," them's strong words in children's lit.

And here I am, jumping on the clover-scented hayride of praise. I read Penderwicks on vacation and I will say it was the perfect book to read at a rented beach house. It manages to have an interesting plot without resorting to magic or tragedy, and it manages to draw memorable, distinct characters without having to assign them glaring eccentricities or broad accents.

The cover kind of says it all: done in butter yellow and two misty shades of blue, it depicts the four Penderwick sisters, a dog and two bunnies in old-fashioned silhouette, all scampering across meadow-y turf. This book is as clean and uncomplicated and delicious as a strawberry you picked yourself, and if that simile makes you nauseous, well, you're not the only one.

But suck it up and recommend this book to anyone, boy or girl, who seems to be looking for a book that is merely a book, happy and drenched in summer sunlight. I would have passed it immediately on to Stretch, my seven-year-old niece, if it hadn't been a library book and she lives in Ohio. Thumbs up.

(Also: appeals to a broad age range. Audio version should be excellent for family car trips.)