It’s time for the Children’s Classics carnival over at 5 Minutes for Books. This month’s theme is future classics–new books that we think might stand the test of time and continue to be loved and read in the decades to come. Of course, it’s all really just guess work, but time honored books do usually have common elements–that’s what makes them classics.
I chose to read The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall because I kept seeing this title pop up all over book blogdom, and it seemed like it might fit the bill. Once I procured my own copy (Gasp! Yes, I actually purchased this book rather than just checking it out from the library! Further evidence that I had faith in it as a worthwhile read. . .), I realized from the profuse praise plastered on the cover and back of the book that others also thought it might be a future classic. Booklist listed it as a Starred Review and had this to say about it: “Birdsall follows in the footsteps of Elizabeth Enright, Edward Eager, and Noel Streatfeild, updating the family story yet keeping all the old-fashioned charm.” Of course, The Penderwicks made it to the New York Times bestseller list and won the National Book Award, so it has definitely met with both popular and critical approval.
Did I like it? Oh, yes! I spent most of the book alternatingly wishing that a.) I were a Penderwick sister and b.) that I had a few more girls myself to recreate the sisterly Penderwickian camaraderie in my own family. Neither of these possibilities is possible because a.) I’m too old and b.)the Penderwick mother is deceased, as is the case in most classic children’s books, so I would not be around to enjoy the sisterly fun if I were to have more girls to re-create this fictional family. Sigh.
Do I think this book will stand the test of time? Yes, I do. I know of at least one more book in the Penderwick line, and I imagine that Jeanne Birdsall will continue to write these stories (according to her website, she plans to write five all together), and they will continue to be loved and read. This story has the feel of an old book in new clothes: a large family escapes to a magical summer home where they meet with adventure and enrich the lives of the people they meet. As a reader, I immediately came to love the sisters, their father, and their dog. Their friendship with Jeffrey is perfect in its innocence and mutual admiration–they love him with no reservations and he loves them just as adoringly. I’m sure someone with more expertise than I have could recount all the elements that make this story similar to so many others: the absence of the girls’ mother and their rather laissez-faire relationship with their father, Jeffrey’s strained relationship with his mother and the fact that he has never met his father, etc. It would make a fascinating exercise, really, to think of other stories that follow a similar pattern. . .but I digress.
This book is a keeper. I’m adding it to our already-groaning shelf of future read-alouds.