Re-read: The Penderwicks series

The final book in The Penderwicks series was released just last week. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. So, while I wait to get my hands on the book, I decided to do a re-read of the other four books. Here are my thoughts…

**Note: This blog post MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. However, I have tried my best to keep things vague enough so that, in case you haven’t the books, there aren’t horrible secrets revealed.**

Book #1 // The Penderwicks

penderwicks1This is the book that starts it all. It’s highly inspired by Little Women and actually feels like it takes place in the past. (Although, Mr. Penderwick does have a computer, which tells us it is supposed to be happening in our present.)

We begin with the family, lost on their way to Arundel, where they are to spend their summer vacation. We meet Roselind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. (And there’s Mr. Penderwick, a head-in-the-clouds botanist who likes to quote phrases in Latin.) And it isn’t long before we get to meet Jeffrey, son of Mrs. Tiften, the owner of Arundel. Then we have some wonderful adventures, including a stand-off with a bull, missing bunny-rabbits, and a rope ladder that leads to Jeffrey’s bedroom.

One of the things I love about books like this is how it references other books. Like the whole “Penderwick family honor” thing. That’s a reference to the (motherless) Bastable children in E. Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers who are seeking to restore their own family’s honour. Birdsall does put her own spin on things. I love the Penderwicks’ little rituals and code words. The MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters), MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters), and the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) who’s supposed to keep an eye out for Batty.

On this re-read, the one thing I noticed is the vilification of Mrs. Tifton (and it extends to the other books as well!). Even before we meet Mrs. Tifton, she has a bad name… Harry the Tomato Man calls her “snooty as all get-out.” But we know that she loves Jeffrey. In fact, even though she has a hard time listening to Jeffrey, ultimately she does do what is best for him. BUT, for some reason, she is HATED throughout the books.

I mean ALL the books.

None of the kids like her at all. I wish Jeanne Birdsall had been a little more grey in her depiction. Not that Mrs. Tiften couldn’t be a source of friction. There are some wonderful moments where she obviously gets their names wrong (which shows us that she isn’t really paying attention to the children, even when they correct her). However this ends up as a bit of a plot hole when she greatly insults Roselind regarding Cagney. (From what I’ve been led to believe, I’m surprised Mrs. T even paid enough attention to notice!)

Here’s what I wish… Could Birdsall not have given her redemption in some way? Even if just for Jeffrey’s sake. (At least something to extend to the other books where she isn’t the primary antongist?)

My only other beef with this book (and with the next two books) is Sabrina Starr. I can’t stand Sabrina Starr! Come to think of it, Jane should be my favourite character, since I am drawn to writers (like Jo March). BUT, Jane’s creation of Sabrina Starr irks me. So. Much. And thus, so does Jane. (Sorry, Jane!)

Overall, I love the timeless quality of this book that starts it all. It gave me that feeling of reading Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables, or The Secret Garden or The Treasure Seekers… all books written 100+ years ago! I love the bond between the sisters. Really and truly, I found this book as much as a delight to read as the first time around.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This book is set on the grounds of Arundel, a beautiful, stately home with wonderful gardens.

On one side of the property, a high stone wall separated the cottage from its neighbors. Along the front and the other side ran a boundary hedge. Skye knew that Mrs. Tifton’s gardens were beyond that hedge. She could walk back up the driveway and through the break in the hedge. Boring, and likely to lead to being caughtit’s hard to hide on a driveway. Or she could crawl through the hedge and emerge in some sheltered garden nook where neither Mrs. Tifton nor anyone else would be likely to see her.

Definitely option two, Skye decided.

The Penderwicks (Chapter 2)


Book #2 // The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

penderwicks2The main story revolves around the Save Daddy Plan. In this book, we get a prologue where we learn that Mrs. Penderwick (who died of cancer shortly after Batty’s birth) has put in place a plan (with the help of Aunt Claire) to get Mr. Penderwick a new wife. This idea horrifies Roselind and she and her sisters go to some length to save their father from their aunt who is trying to get her brother (Mr. P) on some blind dates.

This book takes place at the Penderwicks’ home during the school year. If you’re expecting Jeffrey, he does come into the book, sort of. Instead, we get to know the neighbours across the street: Tommy and Nick Geiger. (They’ll play bigger roles later in the series.)

The plot is all about little deceptions. First we have Roselind and Tommy, who won’t admit their feelings to each other. Then there’s the story of Jane and Skye flipping homework assignments. Jane writes a play for Skye called Sisters and Sacrifice (with Skye as the supposed playwright). But then Skye gets the surprise of her life when her teacher wants present “Skye’s play”, with her in the leading role! Hilarity ensues. Ultimately, this all comes back to Mr. Penderwick’s own little deception.

Which brings me to Marianne.

Yes, when Mr. Penderwick tells the girls about how he is seeing Marianne, I remember guessing right away what was happening here. When Aunt Claire asks Marianne’s last name, he definitely gives it away. (At least to an adult’s eyes.) Although, for some reason Aunt Claire doesn’t get the reference. (And I’m surprised the girls don’t do a search online and figure it out. But, although we do live in a modern world that includes laptops, these girls don’t seem to know about Google…)

Ah, yes. We get a little Parent Trap in this book… (I love The Parent Trap, so this isn’t a problem for me!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Mr. Penderwick is about to go on his second blind date, which has been set up by the girls as part of the Save Daddy Plan. (They are attempting to give him such awful dates that he’ll want to quit dating forever.)

“What did Daddy say in Latin, Skye? Mendax, mendax—?”

Skye was relieved. Latin was easier than feelings. “Mendax, mendax, bracae tuae con—something.”

Conflagrant, I think,” said Rosalind, flipping pages. “I’ll start with mendax. M-e-n-d-e-x. It means liar. Daddy called me a liar!”

“You’d just told him his tie looked great.”

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Chapter 9)


Book #3 // The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

penderwicks3In this book, Skye is the OAP… the Oldest Available Penderwick. In fact, I can almost see Birdsall saying to herself… Hmm, how do we get Skye to go crazy in this book? Well, let’s make her the OAP. Let’s get rid of the parents (and baby Ben). Let’s take Roselind out of the picture (by sending her to New Jersey). We’ll have to put an adult in (Aunt Claire), but we’ll take her out as soon as we can (with a badly sprained ankle). Let’s get rid of Skye’s special list of instructions (on how to take care of Batty). And bam! Skye’s in a perfect storm for a meltdown.

Like the first book, this is another vacation book. But the absence of Roselind does make things a little more chaotic. One of the funniest parts comes at the beginning before they even leave. Roselind is giving instructions about taking care of Batty. “Rule Five: Batty wears this [life preserver] whenever she’s near the ocean.” Skye points out that since they’re staying on the coast, Batty will ALWAYS be near the ocean. “Then she will always wear it,” insists Roselind. AND the younger Penderwicks (including Batty) completely accept this!

Skye is my favourite Penderwick, so I really did like this book. I loved seeing her stretched to her limit and how she manages to survive her OAP-hood.

By the way, Jeffrey’s back in this book! We see a beautiful mentorship begin between him and Batty as they discover that Batty is actually musical. I love how nobody (in the Penderwick family) believes this musicality is even possible since nobody else in the family has the talent for music. But Jeffrey and Batty have a surprise up their sleeve.

And, come to think of it, so does Birdsall, with regards to the neighbour, Alex. (Although, again, I remember guessing fairly early on, even on my first re-through, what was going to happen.)

Fortunately, this is the final time Sabrina Starr comes into the books. (Unless she makes an appearance in the final book, which I have yet to read.) I still can’t stand Sabrina Starr!

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Jane is trying to write her first book about romance. But, she realizes that she has no experience with romance. So, she comes up with a Love Survey…

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked out loud.

“Jane, what are you talking about?” It was Skye again, but this time she was only a few feet away. Jane had caught up without noticing.

“She wants to know if we believe in love at first sight,” said Jeffrey.

“More love,” said Skye, now hitting Jane with the paper towels. “As the OAP, I demand you don’t mention love for the whole rest of the day.”

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (Chapter 5)


Book #4 // The Penderwicks in Spring

penderwicks4 Fast forward several years. When I first read this book, it took me awhile to realize that quite a few years had passed since the events of the previous book. (The one set at Point Mouette.)

In fact, in this book, the three oldest Penderwicks are hardly in it. I mean, they are, but they are not the protagonists. Actually, Skye (my favourite!) has the role of sort-of antagonist in this book. :/

Instead, Batty is the now “oldest” along with brother Ben, and little sister, Lydia. She starts a dog-walking business to help pay for singing lessons. Except the singing lessons are a secret, one she’s not even ready to share with Ben!

Batty and Ben have a nice relationship going. Batty is excitedly awaiting her birthday, but her older sisters make life difficult. Roselind brings home some crazy boyfriend from college. Skye is angry with Jeffrey and won’t let him come visit, much to Batty’s disappointment. And then Batty overhears something that throws her into turmoil.

One of the stars of this book is the neighbour, Nick Geiger. He’s home, on leave from the Army. He’s sports-crazy, but surprisingly he has a wonderful bond with Batty (who has NO interest in sports, whatsoever!) And, to tell you the truth, I think his character has developed much more than Tommy. Or even Jeffrey, at this point!

(Hooray! Sabrina Starr is gone!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This is a conversation between Batty and Ben, two of the “younger” Penderwicks (not including 2-year-old Lydia).

But Batty was already blocking the door again, wedging a chair under the doorknob. Then she turned down the music so that they could better hear each other. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m calling a MOYPS.”

“Another one? we just had one.”

… “MOYPS come to

“What about Lydia? She should be here if it’s a meeting of the younger Penderwicks.”

“This is really just for you. We’ll call it a MOBAB, Meeting of Batty and Ben, okay? Please?”

The Penderwicks in Spring (Chapter 18)


Book #5 // The Penderwicks at Last

penderwicks5And this brings me to the final book… which I haven’t read yet.

I don’t know if I’m setting myself up for disappointment… Perhaps. I don’t always like final books in series. So, I’m trying not to think too much about what this book might be about. (I have my suspicions about what she’s going to do.)

The only thing I will say here is that I really like how they designed all the covers for the series. The silhouettes are beautiful. I think perhaps that is partly what helps give the books their old-fashioned feel.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read these books? Which Penderwick is your favourite? Do you hate Sabrina Starr as much as I do? (Or, maybe you love Sabrina Starr!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And if you’ve already read The Penderwicks at Last, please don’t give me any spoilers!)

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The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

Review: Theatre Shoes

coverBook: Theatre Shoes
Author: Noel Streatfeild
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes must go live with their grandmother when their father is found to be missing in action during World War II. They discover that their grandmother is not only a famous actor, but that she expects them to be actors as well. The children are sent to a performing arts academy where they have to navigate their acting lessons and auditions. On top of that, they also discover that they are living with a grandmother who is not as rich as she thinks she is.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a companion book to Ballet Shoes. While Pauline, Petrova, and Posy don’t actually make an appearance in the book (aside from letters), their presence is felt throughout. And it’s nice to find out what happened to the three after Ballet Shoes ends.

2) I love the story of Holly and the borrowed (or is it stolen?) attaché case. The children don’t have the money for attaché cases and feel embarrassed because this marks them as different from the other students. The way Madame deals with the whole situation is beautiful. It’s fair to the children and it’s a fair way to deal with Holly’s misdemeanor.

3) Alice is a delightful character who uses Cockney rhyming slang throughout the book (referring to money as “bees and honey” or feet as “plates of meat”). She helps the children deal with their aloof grandmother. I found it especially amusing that she always refers to the grandmother using the Royal-We!

4) Other characters I really like… Uncle Cohen is great, along with his wife Aunt Lindsay. And of course, Madame.

5) The family dynamic between the three children (Sorrel, Mark, and Holly) is nice. They stand up for each other, but the story is realistic enough to show their little tiffs and petty arguing moments.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The story of Miranda acting high and mighty, and then losing her role to Sorrel (the understudy) is almost exactly the same as that of Pauline and Winifred in Ballet Shoes. Now, to be fair, Streatfeild does make note of this “history-repeating-itself” in the book itself. (And this is or can be a big problem in theatre in general, so this isn’t a major criticism.)

2) The ending felt a tiny bit rushed to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is a re-read for me, and it’s been many years since I first read it. I love, love, love Ballet Shoes by the same author. While this isn’t quite Ballet Shoes, it is definitely worth the read.

Review: A Little Princess

littleprincess.jpgBook: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sara Crewe comes to a boarding school by her rich papa where she is treated like a little princess. Tragedy strikes when her father dies, leaving her penniless and at the cruel mercy of the headmistress of the school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sara SHOULD be a spoiled brat. But she isn’t. She really is a princess, but in the best of ways.

2) I liked the friendship between Sara and Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde.

3) Miss Minchin is a character that you love to hate. Her hypocrisy is evil! Definitely a memorable character :/

4) The scene with the bun lady is a beautiful scene. She is everything that Miss Minchin is not. I was actually glad when she shows up at the end of the story once again.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Miss Minchin. Yes, she appears above in the “What’s Cool” section, but she also appears here. Could a headmistress be this evil? I suppose she could, but really, this character almost doesn’t seem real. I wish Burnett would have given some redeeming quality, even if just to make her a more rounded character.

2) Sara is too good! Consider her next to Burnett’s other heroine: Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. Mary is a spoiled brat who is NOT likeable at all in the beginning of the story. But she has a character arc. Sara really has no character arc. She’s good and wise at the start of the book. She’s good and wise at the end of the book. I like Sara, but I don’t love Sara. Certainly not in the way that I love Mary Lennox.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A re-read for me. I still hate the Miss-Minchin-treating-Sara-badly parts… actually to the point of me not wanting to read the book. Overall, it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you want a great book by this author, check out The Secret Garden.

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

20170305ma_6050
I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.

Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

TheWitchOfBlackbirdPond_4821Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kit arrives in the Puritan colony of Connecticut, which is a far cry from her home in Barbados. But with her grandfather dead, she has no choice. She and her aunt’s family both experience culture shock. In defiance of her uncle, she makes friends with the “Witch of Blackbird Pond” and soon finds herself the target of a witch hunt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Speare writes an engaging historical novel. She gets the tone right… the rebellious nature of Kit pitted up against the Puritan community. And this book still has appeal for the modern reader (even though it was first published in 1958. Now, that’s a classic!)

2) I liked the complex relationship of Kit and Nat. How Nat is obviously drawn to Kit, and yet is confused by how to react to her non-conformist ways.

3) The “villain” of the story is set up quite nicely in the opening.

4) The uncle is well-characterized. **SPOILER: I like how he’s clearly one who opposes Kit throughout the story. Yet, in the end, he is redeemed. His character grows to accept her, even though she is so different. I hate it when books make the father-figure evil and awful with a good-riddance to bad rubbish. This book doesn’t do that.  END SPOILER

5) I like Hannah Tupper, the Quaker (i.e. the Witch of the title). I thought her relationship to Kit was very touching. And her fragility as she ages was well-written.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER: Nat gets his own ship at the end of the story. I’m not crazy about the name he chooses. But it sort of makes sense. END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is actually a re-read for me. I read it as a kid. I must say I enjoyed it even more so as an adult! Which says a lot about a book. No wonder it won the Newbery.