Now, I only have one sibling, but I’ve seen what it’s like to grow up in a gaggle of sisters. Donna, Peggy, Paige, June, and baby Karen Frasier (I changed their names here) lived down the street from us in Garden City, Kansas. Five girls, two parents and a couple of pets in a four bedroom house. I was between Donna and Peggy in school, and I hung out with Paige but what amazed me was how their sister-group worked. When the Frasier girls went out, they moved like a coordinated squadron even (on at least one occasion) dressing alike. At home, they were five completely independent personalities that could still function together, even when there were fights in the ranks. By contrast, I had just one sister, a toddler back then, and we spent our days after each others’ blood. At the time, I thought the Frasier sisters were too good to be true. These days, I ‘d say they were as Penderwick girls.
The Penderwick sisters are the stars of Jeanne Birdsall’s best-selling, award-winning series about a realistic (if slightly eccentric) family of sisters. The first book called (what else?) The Penderwicks: a Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, introduces us to the cast. Rosalind may be the eldest, most responsible Penderwick, but she still believes everything her best friend says; Skye, is the rebel, explorer, and athlete in the clan; starry-eyed Jane, is so immersed in the romance of words that she can’t talk without adding narrative phrases; and Batty (Elizabeth) is the one with a special connection to animals, especially the family dog, Hound. These four girls, as dear and individual as Louisa Mae Alcott’s March sisters, have conflicting interests and talents but an unswerving devotion to the Penderwick Family Honor that keeps them together in moments of stress. And stress happens, even when sisters are on vacation and trying to stay out of trouble. Trouble seems to come looking for them.
What are the Penderwicks to do about Jeffery, the Interesting Boy Next Door? Can they rescue him from the terrors of military school and his snobbish, terrible mother? Can Rosalind remember to watch out for her sisters when she’s face to face with the attractive gardener, Cagney? Will Jane’s latest Sabrina Starr adventure story get into print or will Skye’s accidents alienate their new acquaintance, the publisher? Will Batty learn the difference between a horse and a bull? In every chapter, the girls share an interesting, believable life which makes this book a delightful change. After years of stories about wizards, angels, ghosts and demi-gods, it’s nice to find a kid’s book filled with ordinary-ish people.
If you’re looking for a nice kid’s story unburdened by fantasy and morals, open up a copy of The Penderwicks. You’ll find out “ordinary” girls aren’t ordinary at all and it’s good to be surrounded by sisters.