Last week we finished The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall. It’s the story of four girls (ages 4, 10, 11, and 12) and their father, told several years after their mother died of cancer. Beth read it to my oldest a long time ago, then bought it for me for Fathers Day 2018, a few months after her own cancer diagnosis. We’ve been reading a chapter a day at bedtime.

My bigger kids (boys and girl of 4, 6, and 8) all loved it, and I did as well. It has lots of strengths:

  • Family and Friendship: The family is tight-knit, but readily welcoming of anyone they meet as new friends. They look out for one another, checking in when someone needs support. At the same time, the complain enough about unpleasant characters to keep the tone realistic.
  • Grown-ups and kids: The Penderwicks have a loving father, but the girls also have their own world that doesn’t depend on him. When something big happens, they get together for MOPS (Meeting of the Penderwick Sisters) or MOOPS (Meeting of the Older Penderwick Sisters). They have slogans and rituals that help keep the family close.
  • Humor: The kids and I laughed aloud at least once in most every chapter. The story moves quickly and is delightful throughout.
  • Morals: The kids in the story are constantly called to grow, whether to be bolder, or kinder, or more self-controlled, or more self-aware. Birdsall presents lots of moral lessons without much preachiness. The moral choices they have to make are not simple, so there is good jumping-off material for discussion.
  • Variety: Each kid has a different personality, all of them likable. Their differences are depicted in the flow of the narrative, in contrast for example to the heavy-handed characterization of the Baudelaire children in Lemony Snicket.

The book won a National Book Award, so it’s no shock that it’s nicely done. A kid could read it on their own and understand it, and an adult could read it on their own and stay engaged as well. It’s a light read that also has some substance. I’d say it’s best to read together, and I’m glad I got to share it with my kids.

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