Author Jeanne Birdsall once said that her ideal book would include “loving families and siblings that got along.” This sentiment essentially summarizes Birdsall’s delightful quartet of volumes that make up the bestselling Penderwicks series.
The Penderwicks series centers around four sisters (Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty), their devoted dog (the lovable Hound), and their widowed father. Mr. Penderwick is absorbed in his own Latin-speaking world of botanicals, which generally leaves his daughters to their own interests, adventures, and activities.
Although set in the 21st century, the series has a timeless, classic feel that has proven appealing to readers. And it’s probably precisely because this type of book is so unusual in today’s publishing world that the Penderwicks have enjoyed such widespread popularity. Success came quickly with the first volume published in 2005, which won the National Book Award and is a New York Times bestseller. All together, the series has sold over one million copies.
You have to love a book that takes place in a perfect storybook setting. As Birdsall writes: “Arundel Cottage was not only yellow, it was the creamiest, butteriest yellow the Penderwicks had ever seen. It was all a cottage is supposed to be, small and snug, with a front porch, pink climbing roses, and lots of trees for shade.”
Now that sounds like an ideal place to spend the summer—or a few hours of delightful reading.
Take our free Penderwicks Checklist to your local library!
Jeanne Birdsall didn’t begin writing until she was in her forties, but since then, she has penned the four Penderwicks volumes as well as a trio of sweet picture books.
Birdsall’s style is charming and comfortable. The characters are engaging—Batty in particular is delightfully memorable—and there are gentle infusions of humor that keep readers chuckling as the stories unfold. Fans of books by Louisa May Alcott, L. M. Montgomery, Noel Streatfeild, and Elizabeth Enright will notice definite similarities between the Penderwicks series and these beloved classics.
Birdsall also has the enviable ability to weave believable and relatable characters into clever and engaging storylines. Her books are, by turns, humorous, heartwarming, and highly entertaining.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, opens as the Penderwick sisters embark on a three-week holiday in New England, where they meet new friends Jeffrey and Cagney. Trouble arrives in the form of Jeffrey’s self-centered and controlling mother who plans to ship Jeffrey off to military school. Add in Cagney’s adorable pet rabbits, Jane’s ambition to be a writer, and Churchie—the lovable housekeeper—and you have a book with all the ingredients for success.
In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the sisters return home to Massachusetts and the problems immediately begin: Jane and Skye decide to switch homework assignments, Rosalind can’t stop arguing with her friend Tommy, and Batty is scared of a mysterious man that everyone else assumes is just in her imagination. But these problems seem inconsequential when they learn that their father intends to begin dating again. The girls concoct a plan to make sure they don’t wind up with an unpleasant stepmother—but will it work?
Another summer finds The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, where the sisters—minus Rosalind, who is taking a separate vacation—are spending another memorable summer vacation. Skye reluctantly accepts the responsibility of being in charge, Jane is determined to research romance for her latest novel, and Batty discovers that she has a talent for music. When their idyllic summer begins to crumble, it’s up to Skye to save the day.
In book four, The Penderwicks in Spring, the point of view shifts to Batty, now ten, and introduces us to the fifth and newest Penderwick sister, Lydia, born to Mr. Penderwick and the girls’ new stepmother, Iantha. Although perhaps more emotional than the previous volumes in the series, this book is both heartwarming and satisfying.
Lydia takes center stage in book five, The Penderwicks At Last. In this long-awaited conclusion to the series, the Penderwicks return to Arundel for a family wedding. Booklist, in a starred review, called this book “a fitting end to a much-praised series.”
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Genre: children’s fiction, humor
Interests: family life, friendship, childhood, growing up
Suggested age range: 8 and up
Gender preference: girls
In the series: 5 books, over 300 pages each.
Do your kids need a little extra encouragement to read? Take our The Penderwicks Series checklist to your local library and have your child check off books as he reads them.
Looking for more great chapter books? We’ve got you covered!