by Jeanne Birdsall, published 2005
“This is what made a book great, she thought, that you could read it over and over and never get tired of it.”
The Penderwicks is another children’s book recommended by my young friend Meera. It reminded me somewhat of her other recommendation, The Saturdays, because it too has a family of four, whose mother has died, and whose father is gentle and loving. But there is an important difference that I discovered upon reading Penderwicks, which has helped me understand the genre of children’s literature. In the book The Saturdays, everything that happens to the children is fairly plausible. One could read the book and expect that similar things might happen to anyone. However, in The Penderwicks, which is set in New England, everything is just every so slightly exaggerated. It could almost happen, but…the adventures are just enough over the top of believability, and yet, not totally into fantasy. This is a very interesting way in a children’s book to capture attention. Could it happen? Could it be true? Maybe…
There’s another surprising aspect to this book which perhaps accounts for why young children love it. The characters have very strong personalities, along with personality ‘flaws’ that actually don’t get corrected. Reading it as an adult, I was a bit horrified. For example, 10-year-old Skye remains undetected without consequences for failing to care for, and thus endangering the life of her little 6-year-old sister. Yet in a child’s world, how perfect that she got off scot-free. This children’s book is definitely not your average morality play, and yet, there are strong messages about consequences, just not in the way that an adult would expect to see them.