Friday, May 16, 2008

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street picks up the family’s story three weeks into the school year following the eventful Penderwick family vacation at Arundel.

Rosalind is a seventh grader, moving on from her misguided emotions towards Cagney, dealing with Tommy, the boy who has lived across the street forever, and the responsibility of being the oldest. Skye is in sixth grade, captain of the soccer team, living a vow to control her temper on the soccer pitch, and wondering why the word “pretty” keeps coming up in conversations. Jane is still writing, this time a play featuring Aztecs, maize, drought, love found, love lost, and blood sacrifice. (The problem? The play was Skye’s homework assignment.) Four-year-old Batty, sans wings, still loves animals, especially Hound, and neckties, and still catches on to much more than older sisters like to admit, including the whereabouts of the mysterious Bug Man.

Readers are introduced to Aunt Claire, Mr. Penderwick’s sister, who delivers a blue letter to Mr. Penderwick, a letter written four years earlier by his wife just before she died, urging him to date again. Aunt Claire agrees, saying, “Movies and dinner, yes, but there’s no rush for romance.” She has even set him up on a blind date with a certain Ms. Muntz. How does it go? As Mr. Penderwick says, “Cruciatus.”

In order to prevent any more of Aunt Claire’s blind dates and meet her predetermined four-date quota, the Penderwick girls come up with the Save-Daddy Plan. After Ms. Muntz, find three more horrible dates. That way Daddy will hate dating, they won’t get a wicked stepmother, and…happily ever after.

But Mr. Penderwick meets someone on his own. Marianne Dashwood. He’s seen her a couple times, but the girls never meet her. The more they question their father, the less information he offers.

And something they never thought could happen, happens. The cherished Penderwick Family Honor is sullied (but not irreparably) by the deceit of more than one Penderwick. Sometimes it takes hard lessons to learn that honesty is indeed the best policy and that sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you the whole time.

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