Posts Tagged ‘mock newbery’

This is a charming, nostalgic tale. Birdsall has the feel of so many gentle novelists I grew up with, Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery. I know that I should have recognized this book as the 3rd in the Penderwicks series, but in spite of being a children’s librarian I hadn’t actually read either of the first two. Not that it hurt my enjoyment of number three, but if I had known the characters, I may have cared more about the oldest Penderwick, Rosalind.

You see, Rosalind is not really a part of this book, as she is heading off for the summer with a friend, leaving Skye as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). This is a frightening prospect for all sisters, especially Skye, who would much rather ponder black holes than brush 6-yr-old Batty’s hair.

There are 2 deliciously enjoyable aspects of Birdsall- her characters and her writing. Here is what I mean.

By characters: The responsible, good-hearted Rosalind who everyone manages to keep in the dark about the near tragedies that ensue during their time apart because they don’t want to worry her. The straight-talking, no-nonsense Skye, who is desperate to fulfill her OAP duties but completely falls apart if “feelings” ever edge near her. The dreamy, loquacious Jane, who decides her latest book must be about love, aside from the unfortunate hiccup that she herself has never experienced it. And energetic Batty, who struggles the most with the absence of Rosalind, yet, through harmonicas and golf balls, manages to come into her own. These and other characters are so rich and so perfectly drawn that you truly feel as if you have known them, if not your whole life, at least for a summer.

And by her writing: It is magical the way Birdsall is able to create such a timeless, perfect feel. Except for scant references to recent books the children read or the occasional cell phone, this story could be set in almost any time within the last century. Yet the incredible thing about it is that none of it is forced in any way. And in particular with dialogue (especially children’s dialogue) that is next to impossible to achieve.

Still, this story is rather tame. The “big issues” that tend to push a book towards Newbery are not present, nor are the originality and excitement of a fantasy adventure book. The Penderwicks is a perfectly crafted, marvelously delicious Thanksgiving apple pie, in a world that is looking for the book version of an Asian-Euro fusion confection. But, flashy isn’t everything.

Newbery Contender? Maybe. But probably not.


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