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Review of the Day: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

Penderwicks Review of the Day: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne BirdsallThe Penderwicks at Point Mouette
By Jeanne Birdsall
Knopf (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-375-85851-2
Ages 7-12
On shelves May 10th

When Jeanne Birdsall’s first middle grade novel The Penderwicks was published in 2005 it committed a crime. A crime shared, I might add, by books written by authors like Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, and even Jeff Kinney. They say no good deed goes unpunished. Well, the creation of The Penderwicks was a good deed to children across the world in need of great fiction that’s homey and familiar without being cloying. Books that are touching a meaningful but never saccharine. In creating such a book Ms. Birdsall followed in her predecessors’ footsteps and did something unforgiveable: she made it look easy. Nothing could be worse. Imitators weren’t immediate, but as time has gone by they’ve cropped up like so many unwanted dandelions. Now librarians must wade through the lot of them in the desperate hope that maybe one or two will be worth recommending. It’s no good to say a book is “the next Penderwicks” or “Penderwicks meets [blank]”. Nothing quite compares to the original and that stands true with this, the third Penderwick chapter. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette takes readers slightly out of their comfort range but not so far that they feel adrift. Everything you expect out of a Penderwick novel is here. It just happens to be done better by this author than any other you might name.

“The Penderwick family was being torn apart.” Nuff said. Maybe torn apart is a bit of an exaggeration. You see, with the recent marriage of their father to that perfectly nice Iantha, the family suddenly finds itself going in three different directions. The parental Penderwicks are going to England on a honeymoon for two weeks while Rosalind goes to New Jersey during that time with a friend. That leaves the remaining three girls to join their Aunt Claire at Point Mouette, in a lovely little coastal cottage. Their pleasure at the thought is daunted somewhat by the discovery that their best honorary brother Jeffrey will not be joining them. More shocking still, with Rosalind out of the picture, Skye is automatically the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) and she is not pleased with the responsibility that entails. Fortunately there are enough dog related mishaps, skateboarding cool guys, musicians, golf balls, moose, and more to distract the remaining Penderwicks from their problems. Particularly when a friend needs their help.

Part of the lure of the Penderwick books is the fact that when you dive into one of them you are verily engulfed in a kind of instantaneous flood of words that feel (forgive me but there’s no other way of saying this) classic. You could read a Penderwick novel after a book by Elizabeth Enright, say, or Maud Hart Lovelace and the sole blip on your radar might be to notice that the language in the Penderwick book sounds less outdated than in the others. There is no effective way of replicating this feel in a novel. Lord knows it’s been attempted before and the results are almost always lamentable (the acoustical equivalent of celebrities trying to write picture books that sound like Dr. Seuss). Ms. Birdsall pulls it off without ever sounding forced or precious. And yet you never feel like the books take place in the past. Cell phones exist in this world but they do not take precedence. Each sister here reads (respectively) Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, and (quite exciting) Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson, as well as the books of Neil deGrasse Tyson (causing me to wonder why Mr. Tyson hasn’t gotten into the world of publishing science books for kids). Even the twist in this book, one that the adults may see coming, works. I say this with some surprise since before the reveal I thought about it and then said to myself, “Nah. That couldn’t be what’s going to happen. You couldn’t get away with that kind of thing.” Well get away with it the author does. I’m not entirely sure how, since it’s a coincidence straight out of a Shakespearean play, but if you buy it when the Bard does it, why not buy it when the Birdsall does?

Since it’s been three years since Ms. Birdsall released the last Penderwick title, I wondered if I’d be able to plunge headlong back into that world without perusing the previous books to remind me of the pertinent details. I needn’t have worried. Standing entirely on its own, Point Mouette manages in the span of two or three pages to catch the reader up perfectly. The characters are so crisp and clear on the page that it’s a wonder they don’t physically pull themselves out of the book and strut about a bit. However, with this novel I began to notice aspects of their personalities I hadn’t really picked up on before. For example, it’s fun to sit down and notice how many characters mention that they don’t want to discuss their innermost problems with Skye. Having a sister like Skye is infinitely useful (particularly when facing unwanted persons) but you don’t always want to face her dead-on honesty when your heart is feeling low. I also noticed some insights into the character of Rosalind, though she is hardly even a part of this book. Her departure, actually, felt a bit like one of the later Narnia books, where Peter and Susan were too old for the adventures. But even without her presence, the mere implied existence of the eldest Penderwick led me to believe that many people know a Rosalind of their own. The kind of person you hide information from so that they won’t worry their good little hearts out about it. Also the kind of person who creates rules for their absent boyfriends “though she knew better than to give them to him.”

Which sort of naturally leads into the ways in which Ms. Birdsall manages to give deep insightful glimpses into character while still remaining true to their ages and personalities. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Jane is trying to come up with a good boy name for one of her characters. She thinks Dylan would be nice name but remembers that Batty has a beef with it. Says Jane, “ ‘Sorry. That’s the name of the boy who poured glue on you at day care, right?’ ‘He poured glue on everybody,’ said Batty darkly.” There’s something about a very small child saying something darkly that just amuses me considerably.

There’s nothing like having your expectations so high that a book can’t live up to them . . . and this is nothing LIKE having your expectations so high that a book can’t live up to them. Sure there’s a bit of a lull halfway through in the action, which may cause the reader to wonder where exactly the story is going. Lulls are fine, though. They pass. In this case, quite thoroughly. If you’ve someone who’d like to be introduced into this world for the first time or someone who’s been reading the books straight through, it makes no difference. Both will enjoy this newest Penderwickian challenge. Both will be intrigued and pleased. Both will love it. You will too for that matter. There is something infinitely satisfying about seeing someone working at the top of their game. Ms. Jeanne Birdsall could well be the poster child for that satisfaction. A fun fun book.

On shelves May 10th.

Source: Galley sent for review from the author.

Misc: A lovely interview of Ms. Birdsall by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast in which the writer discusses not only this book, but some plans for the future ones as well.  There is also a very pretty photograph of the real Point Mouette.  Worth checking out.

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Lisa Yee says:

    I read an ARC of this book and LOVED it. Rarely do I try to slow down when I read, but I did with this third Penderwicks’s novel. I wanted to savor the language and avoid getting to the end of the story. I, too, would invoke the word “classic.”

  2. Miss Erin says:

    I so love books that evoke this feel. Just recently I read Laurel Snyder’s “Any Which Wall” and it had such a strong affect on me in regards to bringing up the sensations of beloved classics such as Enright’s or Nesbit’s. I will definitely be picking this up. Lovely review.

  3. Arguably the first review by a member of the intended audience (e.g. a young reader) is here: http://blogs.dalton.org/c19as/blog/reviews/the-penderwicks-at-point-mouette/

  4. I can’t wait to see this new addition to The Penderwicks! Jeanne Birdsall has the uncommon knack of mixing modern family issues with prose that recalls simpler, bygone days. The Penderwicks are simply too charming to resist.

  5. Jim Randolph says:

    I cannot wait for this! Thanks

  6. So unless Monica and Roxanne make some changes to the seeding process, this time next year we will all most likely be lamenting the fact that PENDERWICKS and OKAY FOR NOW will be going up head to head in the first round of the 2012 Battle of the Books. Totally unfair for both.
    Maybe they can order the books by author’s name instead of title thereby placing these two on separate sides of the bracket.

  7. Deb Marshall says:

    I cannot wait. Well, I have to! So, I shall re-read to ease the time. And, I loved this :

    “The characters are so crisp and clear on the page that it’s a wonder they don’t physically pull themselves out of the book and strut about a bit.”

    Thanks!

  8. I am ready! It’s been sitting in my May ordesr cart for months-can’t wait to read it.

  9. Jana says:

    I just finished this as well and it made my heart so happy. I adored it and went as slow as I could because I wanted to savor it. At first I didn’t think I would like Jeffery being such a big part of the story because I am all about the sisters, but man, that was a satisfying storyline. And this is the first Penderwicks where I cried! I loved it.

  10. Erin says:

    We have read the first two Perderwicks books several times– not to mention the countless hours we have listened to the audiobooks read by the amazing Susan Denaker. My children can recite verbatim many of their passages. So we have been waiting expectantly for the third one to be released! To those who have never read them, I hope that you will not do yourself disservice by missing the first two. They are absolute gems, and you owe it to yourself to read them first. We have just pre-ordered Pointe Mouette, and I’m sure we will also invest in the audiobook as well. If Jeanne Birdsall can keep up her magic for five complete books, we will be very blessed indeed.

  11. Heidi Grange says:

    Aaagh! I have to wait almost two months to read this?! Sigh, oh, well, come to think of it, I have a whole pile of other great 2011 books to read in the meantime, especially Brandon Mull’s newest one. Guess I better get busy, so I am free to read this when it comes out. Thanks for the great review!

  12. The cover is stunning.

  13. Katie says:

    I discovered the Penderwicks only recently, but now I am almost bursting with excitement over this next book! I only skimmed your review, because I want the experience of reading the book to be completely and utterly unspoiled by preconceptions, but I almost squealed out loud in the library when I saw your post come up on Google Reader. Let the countdown begin!

  14. Well, this sort of universal praise is music for the ears of a “read-aloud parent”!

    Although I did not read the first two books yet, I’ve put all three on my “to buy” list for this month!

    Thanks for the insightful review.

    Read Aloud Dad

  15. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    There is a second Penderwick book? And Jeffrey comes back?!

    I agree these books fall right in line with the Betsy-Tacy books I read growing up!

  16. Bibliopinions says:

    Betsy, you review so eloquently! I was completely unable to articulate why I loved POINT MOUETTE so much; now I can simply send people to your review and say, “See? See?”

    And I just adore Batty.

    Cathy B.
    Blue Willow Bookshop

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Aw. Thanks, Cathy. It’s easy as pie to criticize something, but coming up with original praise that touches on exactly what makes a book special can be tough. This review took a little of my blood, sweat, and tears. Thanks for liking it!

  17. Jacquie Fisher says:

    Such a lovely review, and May 10th seems so far away. I agree that the Penderwicks quickly pull the reader into the story, almost like the reader becoming an “honorary sibling” in the journey. In addition to books by Enright and Nesbit, Ms. Birdsall’s stories also remind me of Estes’ books about the Moffats – realistic, comfortable and always leaves you wanting for the next.

  18. Anna S. says:

    Heard at a recent local event that Jeanne would be reading the new novel at Broadside bookstore. We would love to know the time/date of this event. Anyone privy to this info?

  19. PragmaticMom says:

    I wanted to share my post on the Top 10 Eerie Similarities of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette and Karen Day’s A Million Miles from Boston at http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=17317.

    There is no foul play here, just Twilight Zone coincidences! I hope you enjoy it. I had fun writing it!

  20. Sarah says:

    All thee books are so AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for writing them.

  21. Sarah says:

    Are you writing a new book on the Penderwicks?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] much, even though it was good. but guess what? THE THIRD ONE IS COMING OUT AND IT SOUNDS GREAT. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2011/03/16/review-of-the-day-the-penderwicks-a… One of the best parts is that Roselind isn’t THERE THE WHOLE TIME. *cheers while everyone [...]

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