Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life With The Penderwicks

We just finished reading Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy as our Morning Read Aloud (a writer after my own obsession with capital letters). It took us approximately 9 days to read, weekends excepted. And that wasn't because it's not very long, although compared to a Harry Potter or a Sea of Trolls book I suppose it isn't; no, we read it so fast because we all liked it so much.

This book sat on our shelves all year long. Some well-meaning relative gave it to us last summer, and after a quick glance at the subtitle I thought "Hmm, this might be one for FDPG's shelves, what with all those sisters and stuff." I couldn't see Max sitting in on this one very cheerfully. He'd loved the Little House books, but they had homesteading stories in them, and stories about bears and honey and guns and axes. He flagged a little when Laura went on about her trousseau at the end there, but he'd been sad to finish the series. The Penderwicks looked distinctly girlish. So it sat there and sat there, all through the Harry Potter marathon, all through some new Diana Wynne Jones, all through Half Magic, all through The Mysterious Benedict Society, and more. I'd pull it out now and then, study the cover, then reshelve it. Another time, I always thought.

Anyhow, a week or so ago I finally hauled it out and thought "It's now or never!" And the next morning, at breakfast, I brought it out and said "This is our next read!" I might have been imagining it, but I think caught a quick cringe. A scowl for certain. There might even have been some eye-rolling. But this is where my patented Jane Austen Homeschooling Heroine skills helped me out, because instead of quailing before the sullen glare that only a boy-on-the-verge-of-being-forced-to-listen-to-a-story-about-many-girls can muster, I opened the book and began reading, not in a hurried, nervous, oh-please-don't-start-twitching-and-sighing tone (which is sometimes my Backup Voice if the story, err, flags), but in a calm, measured, this-is-going-to-be-amazing voice.

You're all with me on the hyphens, I hope?

Well, let's just say that Max was willing to go along with it all in an effort to cultivate his inner Good Sport, so I read quite unchallenged for a page or two, with the twins listening most raptly, but when we hit the line "'We'll discover that when I'm in the backseat for too long with my younger sisters, I go insane and murder them,' said Skye" he perked right up. This wasn't just a story about four sisters, it was about four sisters who sometimes squabble. And argue. And call each other the odd rude name. And do silly things. And play funny games that involve rubber-tipped arrows and targets with the faces of Interfering Adults painted on them. And one of them was often quite disagreeable. These weren't Perfect Little Girls by any stretch of the imagination.

This was a story Max could really relate to.

It was even funny. I counted at least 15 occasions when the kids all burst out laughing. And each morning, when I'd haul the book from the bookshelf next to the dining room table, FDPG would sigh happily, readying herself for more delightful vignettes about all those girls. She loved that book. She loved hearing stories about groups of smart, clever, witty girls getting into mischief and helping the boys get out of trouble. Gosh, put that way, who wouldn't?

Dominic liked hearing about Jeffrey, the son of the Rich But Sadly Slightly Nasty Landlady, and what an amazing house he lived in, filled as it was with walk-about attics and trees next to windows to climb out of and cooks named Churchie who made gingerbread for lunch and ponds filled with goldfish and tunnels through hedges and and and...

And best of all, Max sat through it all, without the slightest scowl or frown or sigh. Not even a harrumph. And when we finished the story, he leaned back and said "That was way better than I thought it would be!"

So there you go, you just never know what you're going to get into with some of these stories. And sometimes it's way better than you think. Lucky for me...

Other reading aloud posts can be found here:

What We Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.K.Rowling, and Diana Wynne Jones

Reflections on reading a Little House Book

FDPG's Latest Read

Reading Harry Potter

The Water Horse


Rebecca said...

Two things.

Hyphen on, dude.


I'm so glad you reviewed it. It's been sitting on our shelves for a year (or more) and I've wondered if it might be a book that only I end up reading. Glad to hear it's "boy worthy".

Sarah N. said...

I'm 3/4 done reading The Penderwicks to my daughter (she's 5.5) and she loves it. I read it myself a year or so ago and it became a favorite of mine, but she wasn't ready for it then. I'm glad your children all enjoyed it :)

Vivian said...

This has been sitting on my shelves, too. Sounds like something the girls will enjoy. Thanks!

Samantha said...

Sounds like a great read, I'll have to check it out.

By the way, I love the hyphens. Don't ever change.

Oh, and I recommend the movie Bedtime Stories if you haven't seen it yet... ;-)

sheila said...

Funny how this book seems to sit on shelves. I wonder if that subtitle is influencing us parents in ways we don't realize. And yet it's SUCH an amazing book. I really really liked reading it and I don't say that about everything I read to the kids (did NOT like reading Half Magic, for example).

Thanks for the Hyphens R OK vote. I'll keep irritating everyone with them, I mean USING them.

Suji said...

Yes...keep hyphening and capital lettering too LOL. I love them! We need to check out the book too. Thanks for the review sheila!

Samantha said...

I have to tell you, my son just loves the Penderwick books! He is sad there is only two, but has read them both about ten times and has now started writing his own book and is requesting a sister named Skye.

sheila said...

We just noticed the second book today in the library and both the twins were THRILLED.

I was sort of wishing I'd named FDPG Skye...

Roxanne said...

I "test drove" this book for our school library right when it first came out and fell in love. My daughter read it last summer, and the other day I pulled it out as a read aloud for both my daughter AND son. And he, like your boy, had the same reaction. He loves it. Something about describing a vomiting dog within the first few pages grabbed his attention. :)