The Penderwicks on Gardam StreetThe Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading this one on audio was sheer fun. This is the only Penderwicks book (so far) that the girls spend at home, and I loved seeing how they interact with their everyday world. Their house, the neighbors (the boys down the street and the new family next door), friends, school, and the fantastic area in the woods that’s both a refuge and a place to let loose their imaginations.*

The plot centers around the fact that their father has (very reluctantly) started dating. This leads to lots of humor, of course, but also some pain for both him and the girls. This gets resolved in a way that was easy for me to spot a mile away, and I think a lot of kids will spot it, too. And I think there’s something comforting in being able to predict what will happen. It’s ultimately a happy-ending book, and I think some kids like having the reassurance that happiness is on its way.

As with the first book, the fact that the girls have a wide age-range and quite different personalities makes this a great family read-aloud, whether you listen to the excellent audio version or read it aloud yourself. There are different levels of enjoyment, too, depending on whether you’re four and identify with Batty or whether you’re an adult and can figure out what Mr. Penderwick is up to on his dates with Marianne.

*Can I just take a minute and say how much I love books that acknowledge that kids need these places that are their own? Whether it’s a fort in the backyard or a city park or a bit of woods they can wander in alone. I tended to be an indoor kid, I think, but I have vivid memories of backyard forts that felt wild and private. I also think of the little wooded area by my elementary school that seemed enormous and special and was home to all of our imaginative play at recess. It was filled with magic back then, I swear.

Source: my public library

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And here’s what I had to say about it when I first read it back in 2008:

Like the family Hilary McKay’s books, the Penderwicks cover a variety of ages in characters (preschool through 8th grade), which I think would make them good choices for any reader within that range, or for a family read. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is full of references to children’s books, and has plenty of humor (although some of it might go over younger heads) and a variety of adventures undergone by each sister. A great book for a hot summery day.

Like the first book, The Penderwicks, this one almost seems more like a nostalgic pick-up for librarians and teachers and parents than a book for children – and that thought distracted me a little as I read it. However, I think it’s also a great pick for kids who like old-fashioned stories (the book is contemporary, but has a timeless quality) – stories about families and everyday concerns and defending the family honor, but also about loving soccer and writing plays and being interested in Latin and dark matter. In other words, I would totally have loved it as a child. And I know of families in search of books like that, so I think there is a real audience for it.