The Penderwicks

Style: Average

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Endearing holiday story of four sisters and a boy. Jeffrey's mother, alone since his father left, is about to remarry. Mr Penderwick treats his daughters gently, admonishing them sometimes in Latin.

Cover of The Penderwicks

Author: Jeanne Birdsall

Publisher: David Fickling

Published in: 2005

Age Range: Pre Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: Rural USA

Genres:  FriendshipGirlsGrowing-UpRomantic


  • Rosalind is the oldest of the motherless Penderwick girls. Only 12, she has a maternal responsibility about her and is just starting to have feelings for boys.
  • Skye is the next oldest, impetuous but good-natured.
  • Jane has her head in the clouds as she invents new adventures for her fictional daring heroine.
  • Young Batty, named after their mother who died of cancer, is shy but knows when to be brave.
  • Jeffrey happily accepts the girls into his friendship and shares with them the desires he can't share with his mother.


The four Penderwick sisters befriend Jeffrey when staying in a cottage in the grounds of his mother's house. Skye jeopardises their friendship with her tactlessness; Rosalind finds herself with a crush on Cagney the gardener; Jane wraps herself up in the imaginary world of her fictional heroine; and Batty disgraces the family by letting out Cagney's rabbits just at the wrong time.


If a Normal Rockwell picture were translated into text, I think it would look something like this story of four motherless daughters, their gentle botanist father, their new boy friend and his unsympathetic mother. Throw into the mix a first teenage crush, a new boyfriend for the unsympathetic mother, a plot to ship the boy friend off to a military academy and a garden competition which goes horribly wrong. The result is a charming story with amusing moments, heartwarming moments, embarrassing moments and just family moments.

If you're looking for grittiness or the more sordid side of reality, then look elsewhere. If you're happy with a set of believable girls, each with her own character, and a simple set of overlapping stories, then stay and read. It's not for everyone; without being sickly sweet it does have wholesomeness oozing from its pores. There's a built-in sentimental cue as the girls have no mother and Jeffrey's father walked out on them years before.

There are minor characters in the other departments too including Jeffrey's ever-cheerful housekeeper, Harry the tomato salesman, and the sour-faced visitors for the garden competition. Jeffrey's mother has a little substance to her, as does her new partner although they're painted black at first. Jeffrey tries to run away from them and their plans to send him to a military academy, but realises ultimately that it's not the thing to do and they're prepared to listen to his plans for a musically-oriented education.

There are many nice little family touches: Skye loses the draw for bedroom picks but the others leave her the best one anyway; the duty of the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) who must look after Batty; the girls' sense of responsibility which sends Jane round with a prepared speech to apologise for Skye's rudeness; Mr Penderwick's gentle questioning of Rosalind after her unfortunate nocturnal encounter with Cagney the good-looking gardener. I'm definitely looking forward to the next outing of the Penderwicks.

Jane cleared her throat, stood tall with her hands clasped behind her back, and began. “Good morning, Jeffrey. I'm Jane Penderwick, officially elected spokesperson for Skye Penderwick, whom you met yesterday. Skye asked me to express her regret for crashing into you and for her subsequent rude behaviour and hopes you will forgive her and not take it too personally. The end.” Jane bowed.

Churchie applauded. “We don't get many speeches here. That was a good one. What do you think, Jeffrey?”

“It was fine,” he said. “I accept the apology.”

“Already?” said Jane. “I figured you'd need persuading so I've been thinking up more things to say. Like how Skye's always saying exactly the wrong thing to people — it wasn't just special for you. And how she's really nice, sometimes, after you get to know her. And then I'd ask you to have pity on motherless girls brought up without a woman's gentle influence, which doesn't really count, because our father is gentle, but I thought it sounded good. I have more, too, if none of that worked.”

“You can stop,” said Jeffrey. “Not that it wasn't great.”

Monday 27th August 2007