As I've mentioned before, the kids and I listen to audiobooks in the car. My son's school is a 20-minute ride each way, so even without soccer, swimming, tennis, drama, piano, and gymnastics, we spend quite a bit of time in the car. Audiobooks have added great peace and harmony to our minivan time.
Whenever I find a book or series that all three of us love, I have to share it. Pleasing an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl is one thing, but when Mom is excited to get into the car to see what happens next, you've found a real winner. I've been wanting to tell you about this one since we first listened to it in the spring but thought it appropriate to wait until we listened to all three currently released books in the series before opining. After all three books, we love it even more.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall is the story of a family of four girls and their widowed father (seriously, do the mothers ever catch a break?). Ranging in age from five to twelve, each of the four sisters has a very distinct personality and voice. Rosalind, the eldest, is the responsible one, who manages everyone and everything. Skye is stubborn and determined, quick- tempered, and a lover of math, science and soccer. Jane is a writer--dreamy and prone to flowery language and long-windedness. The youngest, Batty, is endearingly goofy and rarely without the family dog, Hound.
In this first book, the family spends a portion of the summer renting the guest house on an estate. At Arundel, they meet the owner, the wicked Mrs. Tifton, and befriend her son, Jeffrey. In the course of the summer, they become embroiled in some Tifton family conflicts, Rosalind develops a crush on the college-age gardener, and Batty falls in love with the gardener's pet rabbits. Hound eats a lot of stuff he shouldn't, while Mr. Penderwick wanders around muttering in Latin and offering up tidbits about botany, his area of study.
What impressed me most about this book is that it is nothing but the story of a family doing relatively ordinary things, yet it is an extraordinary story. With a little boy in the house, many of the books we listen to together involve dragons, elves, talking cockroaches, evil fairies, and other fantastical creatures. This book was about a human family--of all girls, nonetheless--and my son loved it (despite a fair bit of dreaded "romance"). Our family is not alone in admiring the book; it won the National Book Award for Young People in 2005, as well as being on many best books of the year lists.
We were pleased to find two subsequent books about the Penderwicks--The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Gardam Street picks up not long after the first book and covers a portion of the school year. A major storyline is Mr. Penderwick's reluctant dating and his daughters' reactions, but there is a new neighbor, a mysterious man, and some academic dishonesty by Skye and Jane as well. In Point Mouette, the members of the family have dispersed for two weeks of the summer, with Mr. Penderwick abroad at a conference and Rosalind off on vacation with her best friend's family. That leaves a very stressed out Skye as the OAP (oldest available Penderwick) in charge, Jane with a case of writer's block, and Batty to join their Aunt Claire on a vacation to Maine, where they meet a whole new cast of fascinating characters.
Because we listened to the audiobooks, I should credit reader Susan Denaker for her excellent portrayal of the ever-growing cast of characters. She voices each character differently, distinctly enough to distinguish them but subtly enough that it doesn't distract the listener from the stories. In writing this, I was excited to discover that author Jeanne Birdsall plans two more books about the Penderwicks. I don't think I'll tell the kids, or I'll spend the next several years hearing, "Is the next Penderwicks book out yet?"