The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (2015)

Book #4 in the Penderwicks series penderwicks in spring

Whether you are a parent looking for a series of wonderful, funny, heart-warming stories to read with your elementary schoolers, or simply just a lover of children’s literature, the Penderwicks novels are simply not be missed. Each of the four books follows the four Penderwick sisters — Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty — and their widowed father on a series of adventures both big and small, and reveals to readers a fiercely loyal and loving family. Told in an unstructured multi-narrator style, the novels allow each of the girls to present herself and her personal motivations for the silly, funny decisions she makes. The overall result is a series of children’s books that present real life family, one facing struggles as large as guilt and grief and as small as avoiding homework and sharing chores. Birdsall is never overly dramatic nor is she overly simplistic, she has created a family whose experiences mirror real life events that readers will not only be to relate to, but laugh and cry along with. These four books truly represent the very best of children’s literature: while Birdsall may not create an entirely new world to explore,  what she does beautifully is create a world that is just like ours and still amazing…a world where the characters strive to give one another love, support, kindness, as well as a strong sense of community and family.

My nine and five-year old sons and I have had a summer-long Penderwicks reading club and we have just finished the series with The Penderwicks in Spring. Unlike the three books that proceeded it, The Penderwicks in Spring, does not pick up where the previous book left off but instead finds the family seven years beyond the final chapters of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.  The girls have grown and so has their family, which now includes a step-mother, step-brother, and a new baby sister. This expanded, older family is facing a new set of challenges that, while troubling, they refuse to let cause too much disruption or unhappiness.

Although the books are written for children, Birdsall’s prose is straightforward and mature so that readers never have to feel as the story has been edited for simplicity. Instead topics are addressed head on and the characters are given to deep and open discussion of them, no matter their age.

In The Penderwicks in Spring, the girls are all facing real life problems and are working through them together and on their own, each with her own individual flare and drama and always with a healthy dose of humor. The eldest sister, Rosalind, is adjusting to her first year at college and the heartbreak of being cast aside by her high-school sweetheart. Skye is outraged to learn her life-long best friend has fallen in love with her and is deeply worried that her rejection of him would mean the whole family would suffer without him in their lives. Jane, delightfully dreamy and full of hope for her future, is working to keep a bevy of boys at arms length so she can work on her books and plan for college. And finally, Batty, at age eleven, is working to overcome her devastating sadness at the loss of her beloved dog and the shyness that is holding her back from admitting to her family her desire to dedicate herself to music. The entire Penderwick family is struggling in a more global way with issues such as how to pay for all the older girls to attend college and how to handle their fear and sadness as close friend and neighbor is set to be deployed for Afghanistan.

The author always has unswerving faith in her main characters, so that even when the girls do occasionally silly things, it is made clear that they have made a misstep, and not that they are not brave, kind, and intelligent. I must admit that in a house where much of our family reading is centered on male characters and leaning toward fantasy, it is refreshing to get to read to my sons about such fiercely loving, smart, and independent girls; and it is a pleasure for me to read about their supportive and welcoming parents and neighbors.

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