The Penderwicks on Gardam Street -- Jeanne Birdsall
"Grown-ups sometimes need the company of other grown-ups," said Aunt Claire. "No matter how wonderful their children are."
"I don't understand why this is happening now," said Skye, picking up a fork and stabbing the table. "Is there someone you want to date, Daddy?"
"No, there is not." Mr. Penderwick looked like he wouldn't mind doing some stabbing himself.
It's been four years and four months since Mrs. Penderwick died, and Aunt Claire has decided that It Is Time. Time for her to pass on the letter she's been keeping safe, the letter from Mrs. Penderwick that tells her husband that he needs to Move On. Mr. Penderwick makes a deal with Aunt Claire: over the next several months, he will take out at least four different women. After that, he is free to "go back to being a hermit".
It comes as a surprise to everyone when Rosalind, calm and steady Rosalind, has the most difficulty with the idea of a stepmother. She and her sisters -- Jane, the romantic and creative; Skye, the logical and impulsive; and animal-loving Batty, the youngest -- come up with the Save-Daddy plan, which is hilarious, daring, and just... might... work.
Mr. Penderwick's love life isn't the only item of interest on Gardam Street. There's also (to name just a few items of interest) the fact that Tommy Geiger has started acting odd around Rosalind, Jane and Skye's Aztec switcheroo, a new family next door, and Batty's mysterious (and somewhat frightening) Bug Man.
Okay. Now, I'm the first to admit that I was a bit of a crank about the first book. I liked it well enough, but I didn't understand why it won the National Book Award*. It seemed, for sure, like a book that people (regardless of age) who liked olde-fashioned-y books (like those by Eager, Enright and Nesbit) would enjoy immensely, but that was also the sort of book that adults want kids to read, not necessarily the sort of book that kids want to read. (I know, I know. That doesn't matter. The National Book Award celebrates Literary Excellence, not necessarily Reading Appeal. Whatever.)
This one, though. This one totally won me over. I loved it. I found it smart, witty, (here comes the c-word, watch out!) charming, comforting**, timeless, and just lovely, lovely, lovely. It didn't only remind me of the olde-fashioned-y books -- this time, I was also reminded of Hilary McKay***. And comparing a book to the likes of Hilary McKay? Well, that's not something to be done lightly. Hilary McKay's books are special. And so is this one.
So special, in fact, that I'm going to go back and re-read the first one. Because while I was quite aware that my opinion was somewhat affected by my disappointment about Inexcusable, I suspect now that I may have been being even less objective than I thought. So off I go, to find a copy of the first book and give it a re-read.
Those of you who love the Casson series and/or the Exiles series, pick up The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. Those of you who love the olde-fashioned-y type, pick up The Penderwicks on Gardem Street. Those of you who loved the first Penderwicks book... oh, you know what to do.
*Remember, too, that that was the year that my beloved Inexcusable didn't win the National Book Award. That added to my crankiness, and probably would have affected my opinion of whatever won, no matter how wonderful it was.
**The literary equivalent of the most perfectly comfy scene you can imagine.
***Just imagine my delight when I hit the scene where Jane re-reads Exiles in Love! Jane has excellent taste in books, by the way. When I re-read this one, I'm going to make a list.