I just finished reading The Penderwicks aloud to my six-year-old son. I am floored at how great a read it is, and at how much he (loves Legos, Star Wars, "handball," and inappropriate anatomical references) and I (love sci-fi, manga, African history, and control-freak strategy games) enjoyed this book, page by page and line by line.
It's the story of a summer of rather safe, but not dull, adventure, and very innocent romance, featuring four girls and their several crushes, pets (a dog and a very tame father), allies, and nemeses. The setting is old New England, rural, and perfectly free - just right for kids, though alien to my own, with their dawn-to-dusk routines and constant adult supervision.
What makes this story so readable? For me, I found the characters easy to differentiate by voice. This isn't always the case. In too many books - whether for children or otherwise, the voices that occur to me (especially important when reading to a sharp-eared first grader!) are hard to keep track of.
It's all Thomson & Thompson, if you know what I mean.
Birdsall's characters - all four girls, two boys, five supporting adults and a dog - all have distinctive voices. Nobody needs to think whether Jane is talks like an officious oddball - her dialogue demands it. And Skye can only talk too loud most of the time. There's just no two ways about it. I love that about this book.
I think also that the pace of events is just about perfect. There's always something that makes my stomach lurch a little, or would, if I was one of the main characters. And despite the obvious gaps between them and me, it's easy enough to identify with them. They're like different facets of a good person, anyway - impassioned, righteous, creative, shy, bold, analytical, athletic, dreamy, caring... I felt through most of the book as if we had known the Penderwicks for some time.
This is a great book to read aloud to younger, beginning readers, and I'm going to recommend it to my dragons- and swords- obsessed older son, as well. When he puts down the most recent Goosebumps. I'll post his reactions if I get them.
I was happy just now to discover two things. First, that I spelled the author's name right, and second, that she has three Penderwicks books. Go see!
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!