It was love at first sight with this Americana book cover in part because it reminded me of cover for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which is one of my all time favorite kids books. I happily grabbed and read The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall from the library and it wasn’t until the end that I realized this is the third Penderwick book.
The story stands on its own alright, but all the backstory probably wouldn’t have felt like a slog had I read the other two books first. My bad. Still, this makes for a perfect summer read if you’re wondering what it would be like to spend two weeks in a small cottage on the Maine coast with a brood of other people’s children. Okay, I’m not selling this very well. Suffice it to say I enjoyed it.
The three Penderwick sisters and their Aunt Claire arrive at Point Mouette with some trepidation, but mostly excitement. The cottage is super small, but it’s by the beach in a woodsy area ripe for exploration. And the girls have big plans for their brief time away. Skye, the second oldest, is in charge as their oldest sister is vacationing on the Jersey shore with a friend. She wants to do a good job, but it’s a harder job than it looks with overprotective dogs running loose, one sister mooning blindly over a jerk and the youngest, Batty, discovering a love and natural talent for music.
There’s a timeless tone to Birdsall’s writing that suits this story well. The setting is all fresh air and blue water – exactly what I was craving when I read this in a crowded Brooklyn park. Sentences like this embody a lot of what I want summer to really be like (the sisters are on a boat after visiting seals on a small island):
Then Alec announced that it was time for lunch and produced a big cooler that turned out to be full of cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, fresh strawberries, and gallons of lemonade.
This first thing I liked about this story is that the Penderwick girls and friends are staying in Maine under the sort-of watchful eye of their Aunt Claire. I love being an aunt and while I don’t necessarily need more auntie tales in my reading life it was a nice surprise to have an adult character I can relate to in a children’s book. And even without the auntie nod, I appreciated the two main adult characters. They’re fully developed with their own needs, flaws and endearments. So many of the adults, usually parents, are either absent or evil.
The happy chaos that bubbles up when you put three sisters, two friends, one dog and an injured aunt in one place makes for a entertaining enough read. The golly-gee tone probably isn’t for everyone. I’m not sure I would’ve appreciated this book when I was a kid as I tended to prefer reading about teens chased by killers – a la Christopher Pike and Fear Street – than happy families. It did deliver what I imagined when I picked it up off the shelf and is one of the first books I’ve read in a long time to truly earn the description of “rollicking”.
I guess the covers aren’t really similar. Both yellow with paper cut-style imagery but the Penderwicks is illustrative while Calpurnia is more poetic.