If you read Little Women and liked it, you’ll probably like The Penderwicks. Or, if you already read The Penderwicks, try Little Women! Kids who read Beverly Cleary’s books will probably like The Penderwicks too–both of these have an old-fashioned feel to them.
This is a terrible way to start out my first real post on this blog, isn’t it! Recommending Little Women!?!? It’s supposed to be about mountains and survival in the woods and all that. Sorry guys! Remember, I did say that I’m going to read all the books I can find about Massachusetts and New England too. So here we are: The Penderwicks series is set in various locations in western and central Massachusetts.
is about four sisters who are very different from one another. Rosalind is the oldest and wisest one; she’s also one of the best basketball players in her school. The next two sisters are Skye and Jane, who are both star soccer players. Skye loves science and math but hates English; Jane loves English, but is not so hot at science and math. Batty is only four years old and her best buddy is the family dog, Hound. The sisters’ mother passed away when they were young so it’s just them and their father in the house. In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Book 2), they face the scary prospect of a stepmother. Their father, Mr. Penderwick, is kind of odd because sometimes he speaks only in Latin; then his daughters, especially Rosalind, have to figure out what he said.
In The Penderwicks, the family goes on a vacation to the Berkshires. They stay in a cottage on the grounds of a mansion estate owned by Mrs. Tifton called Arundel. Mrs. Tifton is a snooty, wealthy woman who keeps her gardens in perfect condition. The Penderwick sisters and Mrs. Tifton’s son, Jeffrey, get into all sorts of trouble (and fun!) at Arundel. For example, Batty has to be rescued by Jeffrey twice: once from a mean bull at a nearby farm, and again after she runs away from Arundel. Another time, Jeffrey, Jane, and Skye are playing a game of “two-on-one slaughter” when they kick a soccer ball into Mrs. Tifton’s gardens at just the moment that a judge from the Garden Club competition is walking through!
Have you ever been called a gormless duff? Neither have I, but it sounds pretty bad. When Jane gets angry, she pulls out a big bag of Shakespearean insults. She shouted this one to the other team during a soccer game after she was knocked over while dribbling the ball. When Skye retaliates to defend Jane, both teams get into a big fight and the game is called off by the referees. Other horrible insults: “Silly Git”, “Gooseberry Louse”, “Churl”, “Knave”, “Fish Head”.
In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Mr. Penderwick reads a letter from his wife who passed away many years before. In it, she tells him to date again because she doesn’t want him to be lonely. He doesn’t really like the idea of dating again. But his sister, Aunt Claire, makes him agree to go on at least three dates. The sisters don’t like the idea of their dad dating either. They don’t want a stepmother. So they agree to carry out a secret plan: the Save-Daddy Plan. They try to set up their dad with crazy women who he certainly will not like.
Arundel is not a real place in the Berkshires. The Berkshires are mountains in western Massachusetts. This map shows you the general area. It’s supposed to be in a place called Framley, MA, but this town doesn’t really exist. There are quite a lot of mansions like Arundel in the Berkshires. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, wealthy businessmen from New York City and Boston built many huge vacation homes there. Arundel might look something like the mansion in the picture above.
Cameron, MA, the setting of the The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, doesn’t exist in real life either. But it is very much like Amherst, MA. There is an actual Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst (pictured below). But there is not an actual Gardam Street. In the book, Gardam Street is a cul-de-sac (or dead end) that is within walking distance of Wildwood School. It also borders a park called Quigley Woods. Quigley Woods is not a real park, but there is a place called Fraternity Park close to the school. I couldn’t find any pictures of this park, but satellite pictures on Google Earth show that it has plenty of trees, just like Quigley Woods. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is very close to both Wildwood school and Fraternity Park. We could easily imagine it to be Cameron University, where Mr. Penderwick is a professor of botany.
Jeanne Birdsall has written two books (so far) in the Penderwick series. She says in an interview that she plans to write three more books for a total of five in the series. Maybe one of these will be set in Boston. That would be cool because it’s closer to where we live!
Anyway, this post was waaaaay too long! I’ll be working on a shorter post next time. I don’t want you guys to fall asleep while reading it! I hope you’ll go find The Penderwicks at the library and read it soon!