So, ya’ll have already read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, right? It was published in 2005, so it’s already 11 years old (we won’t talk about how recent 2005 seems to me). It isn’t a book I was much interested in, but it’s pretty popular here. I routinely get parents asking for book recommendations, and they’ll say, “Well, she loved The Penderwicks, so can you recommend something like that?” Well, no. I haven’t read it, know nothing about it, and can’t really recommend something like that. (No, of course I don’t say that to them, sheesh! I’m a librarian! I have resources!)
At any rate, it was time to read it. I confess, I enjoyed it. Little Women was my favorite book growing up, and The Penderwicks seems to be a modern take on Little Women. Four sisters in a small cottage, a rich lonely boy next door that they get into adventures with? A responsible oldest daughter, a tomboy second sister, a shy little sister? Yeah, this has Little Women written all over it. And that’s not a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned.
In my Children’s Literature class in college, I was part of a discussion in which one of my male classmates maintained that Little Women was outdated and awful and had nothing to offer modern young women. The rancor! The spite! We eviscerated the poor man and danced upon his entrails. The episode makes me blush to think of it.
I’ll whisper quietly to you that I think modern young women might enjoy The Penderwicks more than Little Women. It has the same gentleness of spirit, and captures the same quiet joys and struggles that are eternal for girls, with the benefit of having a modern setting. It also lacks the sometimes heavy handed morality of Little Women.
I would recommend this for children who enjoy classic literature, or stories about sisters or family adventures.