I recently reviewed Jeanne Birdsall’s second Penderwicks book (you can find that review here), and I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to read her third one this quickly. Public libraries for the win! The third in the series, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (2011), is a surprisingly great sequel. I’ve found that the quality of an ongoing series often falls off after the first or second offering. Too often, as books or films go on, characters undergo drastic personality changes from poor writing, or worse, never change at all. It can be hard to create believable character growth as a series develops, and scenarios often get more far-fetched as the writers run out of ideas. However, despite yet another entirely-too-convenient plot resolution, Birdsall’s new tale is simply delightful! Each of the girls remains herself, yet all are growing up.
Her second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, disappointed me somewhat. The four Penderwick sisters had returned home after their summer at Arundel, and it felt as if Birdsall didn’t know how to handle the girls’ daily home life without inventing an implausible dating requirement for their father. In this third book, Birdsall sends the girls away again for the following summer, and it seems that it is in summer vacation adventures that she really hits her stride. There is a surprising twist in The Penderwicks at Point Mouette: the girls split up! Rosalind, the eldest, goes to New Jersey with her friend Anna. Thus, she is not present for most of the book. I was completely prepared to be annoyed by this. A series about four sisters, and one isn’t even in this book? And yet, I loved the result. Rosalind has always been the mother-figure for her sisters Skye, Jane, and Batty. Now, the other three Penderwick girls must learn how to cope without her (and without their father and new mother and brother, who are all on a honeymoon in England) on their summer vacation with Aunt Claire and their friend Jeffrey. There, Skye must take on the responsibility of the OAP – Oldest Available Penderwick – and try to remember all the rules for taking care of little Batty after her list gets water-logged and ruined. Her responsibilities unfortunately increase when Aunt Claire sprains her ankle. Jane struggles to write a new Sabrina Starr book, but finds that it’s difficult to write about love if you’ve never felt it, and Batty and Jeffrey bond over a shared love of music. And this book adds a few new friends – the local girl Mercedes, who is Batty’s age and quickly adopted as one of the family, and the next-door neighbor Alec, a professional musician who takes Jeffrey under his wing. Things go wrong, adventures are had, concerts are performed, messes are made, and all in all, it’s another great story about a really loveable family.
One thing I liked most about this book was about how, in contrast to other modern children’s stories (you can read more of my thoughts on that here), Birdsall doesn’t see a need for the kids she writes about to be on their own, without any adult supervision and influence. Yes, the children must take on more chores when Aunt Claire ends up bedridden, but she is still the parental figure, and at one point, her adult presence saves the day. These stories about the Penderwicks demonstrate how loving adult figures create healthy, well-adjusted children by giving them independence and responsibility, while always remaining present to help in a crisis. I like this image of parenthood. I like how five-year-old Batty helps make pancakes – and how all the kids pitch in to help clean up the messy kitchen afterwards. I like how Aunt Claire serves as a confidant, giving wise advice when the girls face problems they don’t think they can deal with alone. I like Birdsall’s Penderwicks, who are capable and loyal and talented, and I hope she comes out with a new book soon!