For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.
Who knew which was right? But it was true that the beach house they usually rented had been sold at the last minute, and the Penderwicks were suddenly without summer plans. Mr. Penderwick called everywhere, but Cape Cod was booked solid, and his daughters were starting to think they would be spending their whole vacation at home in Cameron, Massachusetts. Not that they didn’t love Cameron, but what is summer without a trip to somewhere special? Then, out of the blue, Mr. Penderwick heard through a friend of a friend about a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains. It had plenty of bedrooms and a big fenced-in pen for a dog — perfect for big, black, clumsy, lovable Hound Penderwick — and it was available to be rented for three weeks in August. Mr. Penderwick snatched it up, sight unseen.
He didn’t know what he was getting us into, Batty would say.
The Penderwick sisters are Rosalind, age twelve, Skye, eleven, Jane, ten, and Batty, four. Their slightly-absent-minded, professor-of-botany father has rented the cottage at Arundel Hall, and for three jam-packed weeks, the girls liven up the neighborhoods surrounding it.
Immediately, the girls discover Jeffrey Tifton, the lonely son of snooty Mrs. Tifton, owner of Arundel. Jeffrey finds ideal companions in these new friends, and together they evade an angry bull, practice archery, slip in and out of windows via tree branches and a rope ladder, and in general turn the orderly, staid life of Arundel upside-down. There are fabulous grounds and enormous, treasure-filled attics to explore. Rabbits to feed and cookies to bake. Garden club ladies to avoid and one, handsome teen-age boy to dream about (for Rosalind.) Storm clouds gather, however, when Mrs. Tifton threatens to send Jeffrey to military school. Can the sisters help convince this prickly heiress to change her mind? Or will they just make matters worse?
Jeanne Birdsall has written a deliciously old-fashioned story, enjoyable as peaches-and-cream on a summer’s day. Even the sorrowful strains in the plot — a mother who died shortly after Batty was born; Rosalind’s painful realization that this teenage boy sees her only as a child — have roots in many children’s novels of a century ago. Meanwhile, all the elements of a pleasurable, charming story — the warm-hearted housekeeper, the attic overflowing with dress-up clothes, the vast meadows and grounds to explore unsupervised — are unabashedly present here. These are children who never watch TV; they’re much too busy writing their own stories, concocting their own adventures, playing the piano, baking, reading, chasing escaped rabbits… and taking good care of one another.
If you’ve read Elizabeth Enright’s books, or the Swallows and Amazons series, you’ll recognize a little of that same flavor here. Perhaps a tad updated…but not much. A cozy read for ages 8 -12. There are already two sequels which I have not read, but I’ve heard good things. Great summertime read, as well as read-aloud material for those even younger.
Here’s the Amazon link: