Friday, July 11, 2008

Autumn Adventures: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

It is late September, and the Penderwick girls, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and little Batty, are back in school. Still reminiscing about their wonderful summer visit to the Berkshires, they are already deeply immersed in their new school year. With seventh-grader Rosalind officially in charge after school, there are no more babysitters for the Penderwicks, and major decisions are still made in their customary MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters) or by the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick).

Then a weekend visit from their dad's sister Claire rocks their comfortable life. Aunt Claire comes to give their father a blue envelope, inside of which is a letter entrusted to her by their mother, who died of cancer just after Batty's birth. In her letter she urges their father to begin to look for a new wife when the children are old enough to cope with the change. Claire has even arranged the first blind date with a friend of a friend. Mr. Penderwick is taken aback by the idea of dating after so many years, and the sisters are even more appalled at the thought of having a possibly wicked stepmother, especially with the memory of their friend Jeffrey's horrible stepfather fresh in their minds from their summer adventure.

A MOPS is called immediately, and the girls formulate their Save-The-Daddy Plan, which involves finding the absolutely worst blind dates for their father that they can come up with. When Claire's candidate turns out to be a misfit ("Cruciatus," groans their Latin-addicted dad after his first date), Rosalind's best friend Anna sets up a date with her imperious skating instructor. Another dating disaster follows, and the Penderwicks are sure that their dad will drop the whole thing if they can come up with a couple more unsuitable pairings.

Meanwhile, the sisters have plenty to think about. An interesting new neighbor, Iantha Aronson, who is a faculty colleague of Mr. Penderwick's, moves in next door with her adorable toddler Ben, whose favorite (and only) word is "Duck," and Batty and her dog Hound take on the challenge of expanding Ben's vocabulary. When Jane is distraught by a C on her science essay, Skye, who adores science and math, agrees to write Jane's research reports in return for the imaginative Jane's ghosting Skye's creative writing projects. Jane immediately throws herself into Skye's assignment to write a play about Aztec religion, which she titles "Sisters and Sacrifice," a melodrama about maidens sacrificed to bring rain to the maize crop. Jane's play is a hit; Skye, as the supposed author, is lionized, and the play goes into production for Sixth-Grade Performance Night, with the unwilling Skye in the lead role.

When Jane is not busy being her sister's acting coach, she and Skye are absorbed in their soccer league, especially in their rivalry with Cameron Hardware's team, headed by Skye's rival, the prissy Melissa Patneaude. Batty's happy world is marred only by occasional sightings of a scary sunglass-wearing figure she names "The Bug Man," while Rosalind feels her first pangs of romantic jealousy as her old friend Tommy Geiger acquires a possessive girlfriend named Trilby. Mr. Penderwick's romantic life, however, seems to be taking a turn for the better with several reportedly pleasant dates with a woman named Marianne, until the girls discover that "Marianne" is purely fictitious, used by the desperate dad to stop the succession of dates arranged for him by Claire and the girls.

Then Rosalind has an insight that will change their lives. As they celebrate Skye's team's victory, Rosalind suddenly sees that her dad and Iantha really "like" each other. Reversing their field, a hurriedly-called MOPS hatches a plan to disable their dad's car so that he will be forced to drive to a university gala with Iantha, who is looking resplendent in a green-blue silk gown, with hopes that they will enjoy a significantly romantic dinner together.

It's a wonderful conclusion, with everything happening at once--the soccer team's victory, Jane's happily stepping in for the fainting Skye to play the lead in Sisters and Sacrifice, their confession to their father of their dishonest authorship agreement, and the budding romance between their warm and loving neighbor Iantha and their father. Even the Bug Man is involved in a rousing climax, out of which Rosalind and Tommy pledge to be boyfriend and girlfriend--as soon as they both turn thirteen! And none of these events are even close to the major happening of the season! Whew! Just a average autumn for the Penderwicks!

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a worthy sequel to the 2007 National Book Award-winning The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. (Penderwicks (Quality)) Realistically drawn, the Penderwick sisters come through as genuine individuals who nonetheless manage to blend into a one-of-a-kind close-knit family. As Booklist's reviewer said it so well, it's "just the sort of cozy fare that is missing in today's mean girl world."

For a review of The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, (Penderwicks (Quality)) see my post of March 11, 2007.

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  • My kids (9 year old girl, 11 year old boy) adored both Penderwick books.

    Hsve you ever reviewed The Misadventures of Maude March and its sequel by Audrey Couloumbis? No real similarities to the Penderwicks books except that they are great stories with female main characters.

    By Blogger Marbel, at 9:20 PM  

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