Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall

Oh, the Penderwicks. Jeanne Birdsall has said that she wrote the sort of book she liked to read when she was a girl, by which I must assume that Jeanne Birdsall and I had vastly similar reading tastes. When I read one of the now three books in the Penderwicks series, it makes me feel like I am about ten years old and back in southern Maine, curled up reading on the attic bed in the little cottage we rented every summer. This, presumably, is exactly what Jeanne Birdsall intended.

The Penderwicks books are about four sisters (I am one of four sisters too!): responsible Rosalind, outspoken Skye, aspiring author Jane (oh how I would have identified with Jane when I was little), and shy little Batty. Their mother died shortly after having Batty, and they have been raised by their kind, clever professor of a father. In the first book, they went on vacation and made friends with a lovely boy called Jeffrey; and in the second they sorted their father’s life out for him; and in this one, poor long-suffering Rosalind gets a break from them all. She goes off to the beach, and the younger girls go vacationing in Maine (in Maine!) with their aunt Claire. I missed Rosalind but it turned out to be just as fun spending time with the younger three girls.

What can I say? Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books are reliably wonderful, and this the third is no exception. I just can’t say enough good things about this author and this series. They are funny and smart and self-aware. They do that thing where the kids have not quite picked up on what’s going on with the adults, but the way the kids view the story is enough to tell the reader what’s going on (I love that thing). They do that thing where the kids figure out everything because the adults aren’t paying attention. The sisters love each other but they don’t always get along and they frequently drive each other crazy. At the climactic moments, this book shines. I cried at the end of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. My eyes filled all full of tears and I read this one scene like four times.

It is not that Point Mouette (or the foregoing Penderwicks books) are perfect. Some characters are drawn too broadly. Some plot points are telegraphed far, far in advance. I always wonder if I’d have picked up on this as a kid, or if I really was ever young enough not to know that there aren’t that many plots out there to be used and authors consequently use the same ones over and over. But somehow these things don’t seem like flaws. They seem like the way childhood really feels in my memory: some people were caricatures, and the things that happened were things I expected to have happen. And besides, although you can see the plot points coming, they are still paid out in such an incredibly satisfying, non-simplistic way, that you do not mind that you knew what was coming. At least I don’t.

Don’t start with this. Read The Penderwicks first, and then The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and then, subsequently, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. You will feel all warm and happy inside when you read them. Promise. They are that kind of book.

Other reviews:

Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Library Chicken

Any others? No? No more? This is it?

  • I have had this series on my wish list, I think, since you first reviewed the first one! While I do not by any means condone naming a child “Batty,” I think I will greatly enjoy this series once I actually find the first book somewhere. As for other books like this one, I have no idea. Do you mean, books written for adults who like to remember their halcyon days of youth? I can’t think of many off the top of my head, but would just reiterate my thoughts that you would like Letters of a Woman Homesteader, which can be another book you get in an e-version, but not necessary to use the library.

    PS – I now hear your blog posts in my head in YOUR voice, since I’ve heard it in person now 🙂

    • They didn’t name her that, they named her after the mother. And she got nicknamed, but I can’t remember why. And she’s really cute. You’ll forgive her for being called Batty when you read the books. Promise. Love them! (I’d offer to lend you my copies, but they are in Louisiana, alas, alas.)

  • Batty is a nickname for Elizabeth, probably off Betty. I love these books but don’t have much luck getting my sons to read them. They are more into lone orphans than family stories.

    • Oh, well, fair enough. I always love family stories but orphans are a LOT of fun too.

  • I have heard this series mentioned briefly in passing, but haven’t ever gotten the scoop on what the books were about, or why they were so wonderful. Now that I have read this review, I think I am eager to try out the hominess and comfort of these reads for myself. Though I don’t have any sisters, I still think I would enjoy these books a lot, and am going to make an effort to read the first one. Thanks for the excellent review, Jenny!

    • I hope you like them! They’re just really sweet, relaxing, darling books. They’re lovely.

  • I wasn’t familiar with this series, but it sounds great. Great review–you have really caught my interest.

    • I hope you like them! She’s such a fun writer, and she writes sibling relationships just the way they really are. 🙂

  • Amy

    There’s something about your description that makes these book sound so inviting. Being in a slight reading slump, these might be the answer for my summer reading lag.

    • I would think they’d be perfect for that! And if they’re not, they are in any case very quick reads, so you’ll be done with them before you know it.

  • I want to feel warm and happy inside when I read a book. You made me long for that kind of feeling. And childhood. Wonderful post, Jenny.

    • I don’t always want to feel warm and happy inside when I read a book, but it’s nice when a book is able to make my cynical self feel that way! This one was wonderful. Read it! Enjoy it!

  • “They seem like the way childhood really feels in my memory: some people were caricatures, and the things that happened were things I expected to have happen.” That is a VERY good point, especially about people being caricatures. I always find it fascinating to discover “human” things about people who, in my childhood, were mere caricatures – I just found out yesterday that MeanScaryGirl who lived across the street from Past Mumsy was actually getting the crap beat out of her by her awful parents. And no one reported it! I WOULD HAVE.

    And also? Going out to buy this NOW!

    • Same! Looking back on it, a Certain Girl was somewhat doomed by her vulgar hectoring monster of a mother (to steal a locution from my dear Tom Stoppard), and was not exactly the monster I thought she was.

      I hope you like it! Which of course you will.

  • Jenny

    Eeeee! There’s a new one! I love these books. They remind me more than anything else of the Melendy books (which I think I remember you love, too.) Ordinary siblings, no magic, no major adventures or mysteries, but so wonderfully satisfying. Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll go straight to the library tonight.

    • Oh, yes! The Melendy books are a perfect comparison! They are sweet and wonderful in just the same way. But I think the Penderwicks have a little bit more emotional oomf. Because I never cried reading the Melendy books.

  • I just added these to my to-read library list because I would very much like to feel all warm and happy inside. Not that I feel all dead and cold inside right now, but, you know..

    If you discover the secret to overcoming a blogging slump, let me know what it is, okay? I love seeing new posts by you pop up in my reader.

    • I will absolutely let you know. I’m thinking it might just be, power through it. I’m sort of failing at it but I think that may be the trick. :p

  • omg I’ve been wanting to read this series for a while because it sort of looks like a Little House/Swallows and Amazons/Secret Garden other such books I’ve loved as a kid thing, but my library only has the second book and I don’t want to read it as an ebook and it’s VERY DIFFICULT. And stuff.

    Swallows and Amazons– have you read any Swallows and Amazons? SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS. BOATS. HOUSEBOATS. THINGS IN THE COUNTRY. PIRATES!

    [insert incoherent babbling here]

    • READ IT. READ IT. It’s easy to read as an ebook, honest. I never read ebooks but I read this as an ebook, on my computer, and I zipped right through it. I promise! I wouldn’t lie to you!

      I haven’t read Swallows and Amazons. Is it possibly one of those books you have to read as a kid, though?

      • Well now I have no excuse not to read it! Yay!

        Also: NO. I actually read most of the S&A series as an adult (like, LAST YEAR), and it was like I had been sucked back into a childhood summer for 200-something pages. The only downside is that the oldest girl in the Swallows is the “substitute mother” type– but the Amazons mostly make up for that, and I think she gets better in the later books.

      • Jenny

        p.s. Anastasia is right about Swallows and Amazons.

  • I only had a much older brother growing up, who was of very little use to me. How I longed for proper siblings! I can see this book would have charmed me, well, may indeed charm me as I’m very tempted to read the series.

  • There’s a new Penderwicks book? And this is how I find out–YOU TELL ME?!! (Thanks!)
    I think the Edward Eager books and the E. Nesbit books are bit like the Penderwick ones.
    Did you know that my family are all such fans of Swallows and Amazons that we’re going to England, to the lake district, specifically to see the countryside where those books take place? The first part of our trip to be booked was the Swallows and Amazons boat trip on Coniston Water. Wordsworth is an afterthought.
    And I read Swallows and Amazons as an adult. Of course, it helps to have a fascinated child on your lap.

    • Yesterday we went to Columbus to see the extended version of Return of the King on the big screen, and Ron and Walker made time to jog over to the bookstore and buy this book. So we all thank you for making us aware of it. We are generously letting Eleanor read it first while she recovers from wisdom teeth removal.

    • This inspired me to write about Swallows and Amazons and why I love it; the post will be up tomorrow morning (July 14).

  • anna

    Ebooks, right? I miss our library, and am kind of sad that I’m better off with its online selection than with my towns real selection

  • I hadn’t heard of these books prior to blogging. I’ll have to track them down and read them sometime for sure.

  • It’s funny, with some books, the more I feel like I can predict what’s going to happen, the more I keep having this eye-rolley feeling and the more I end up feeling like a book snob. But, on the other hand, there are some books that somehow wheedle their way into your heart and the predictability factor makes it such a comfortable snuggly read. It must be the nostalgia element that tinges the writing style of some authors, hard to find that nowadays.

  • Robyn

    Reading about the Penderwicks reminds me of when you would read me those Edward Eager books as a child. Charming. Gives me a delightful sense of nostalgia.

  • Ela

    Oh, I love the Melendy books; therefore I must try one of the Penderwicks. I wonder if they are available here in the UK…

  • Oh, this sounds totally perfect and summery and I might have to re-read the previous Penderwicks books before I read this one! Apparently this is my Summer of Kids’ Books – as you know, I just read the Melendy Quartet for the first time; I also have Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries checked out from the library at the moment, and I’ve been thinking I want to read the Goneaway Lake books and maybe some Edward Eager, too.