Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Penderwicks

I'm a lover of children's literature - good, old fashioned children's literature that brings to mind long hot summers & endless hours of riding bikes, building forts and imaging adventures. It seems that this sort of childhood has fallen out of fashion in this era of video games and scheduled playdates. Children's books have changed along with childhood; much of their innocent charm has faded under the glaring eye of our technological society. But there are always the classics, which I re-read faithfully and hope to share with my own children someday - L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series and L. M. Boston's Green Knowe stories, among others.
I can now add to these Jeanne Birdsall's new book The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. Winner of this year's National Book Award, Birdsall's "retro" story of four sisters and their summer adventures is a charming tale. The Penderwicks, forced to search out a new vacation cottage after their place on Cap Cod is sold by the land lord, find themselves in a picture perfect cottage on the estate of Arundel, a mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens. Add in a friendly cook & gardener, a lonely boy, a mean land lady and a troublesome dog and you have the makings of a wonderful family story.
In an interview with School Library Journal, Birdsall admits she didn't realize just how radical her retro story was when she began writing it. A first time author, Birdsall used classic children's authors like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager as inspiration for her simple story. "I wrote the kind of book I read and that I’ve always read, " says Birdsall. After reading early drafts, Birdsall's agent warned her she wasn't writing the type of books children read these days - Birdsall's book wasn't edgy enough. Birdsall finished the book anyway, only to have HarperCollins accept the book, but with conditions. As her agent predicted, they wanted it edgier.
Two years and several hated revisions later, Birdsall went with her gut and went back to her original story. Knopf accepted the manuscript a few months later with a minimum of changes. The Penderwicks remained true to Birdsall's original vision.
While there is certainly a need for children's literature that recognizes and addresses the myriad problems children of today face, there's also a need for literature as escape. Not all children today are forced to face abuse, abandonment or even divorce - and even those that are can sometimes benefit from simple stories with charm and grace. The Penderwick girls are not perfect and neither are their lives - their mother is dead and each girl bears her own responsibilities and faces her own faults. But the overriding message is one of family and loyalty that has much to say to the youth of today.

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

What I'm Reading: Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
On My Bookshelf: The Gods in Winter by Patricia Miles


Post a Comment

<< Home