Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Jeanne Birdsall won a National Book Award for her first book, The Penderwicks.  When I read that book I was drawn into a family and was taken back to the books I'd loved in my childhood, Betsy and Tacy, Laura Ingalls, Rebecca of Sunnybrook, Ann of Green Gables.  The stories I loved as a child described the simple acts of a day in a way that created a connection and a feeling of belonging.  Ms. Birdsall masterfully recreates that connection and sense of belonging and introduces us to a new family to love.  While her stories are set in more modern times, the activities, feelings and emotions are timeless.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street reintroduces us to the Penderwick family in their home without burying us in unnecessary back story.  Ms. Birdsall does an excellent job of reconnecting us with her characters and reminding us of why we enjoyed them so much the first time around.  She sets the pace, slow but steady, and gives us conflict that is just enough to keep the story moving but not enough to make us feel uncomfortable.  Ms. Birdsall captures a simple rhythm that throws off the media frenzy of gloom and doom and reminds us that the most important things are the ones that happen with and to the people we love.

One of the most pleasant aspects of these books is the portrayal of adults.  Too often adults in children's literature are inept, stupid or evil.  Very seldom do the adults provide anything but a comic relief or villainy. The majority of adults in the Penderwick books provide a picture of reasonable adult behavior in which adults engage with children in a loving and respectful way. It's lovely to read a story where the family is a place of love and safety.  It's also worthwhile to hear of the struggles between real values and difficulties with upholding those values.   While the Penderwicks live in an idyllic world, they are not perfect, and because of their struggles, failures and triumphs we can enjoy them all the more.

I highly recommend both of The Penderwick novels.

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