Choosing a read aloud is serious business around here. Sometimes I will pick something based on the season or what we’re studying in school, but we generally choose by committee. First, I collect a short stack of my own childhood favorites or books I’ve been wanting to read. We sit on the couch the children look at the covers and flip through the pages while I read the introductions on the jacket covers. We usually have an obvious choice by the end, but when we’re still not sure, we take a vote. The process has served us well for a few years now. But when it came time to pick our most recent read aloud, the choices were limited. We were in no position to head to the library that day, so I gathered up all the books in the house that seemed like a good fit that we hadn’t already read. (There weren’t very many.) The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall didn’t have any of the things that usually draw us to a read aloud (magic, dragons, buried treasure, talking animals…), but we decided to give it a try anyway.
I haven’t enjoyed a read aloud this much in a long time. The Penderwicks is sweet, but not unbelievably so. The stories was simple enough for the little girls to listen along with us but complex enough for me to enjoy. While there wasn’t any magic, one of the Penderwick sisters is an imaginative storyteller, so her Sabrina Starr stories added a touch of fantasy to the book. There weren’t any talking animals, but Hound had enough personality to make up for it.
My favorite aspect of the book was the relationship between the sisters. Sometimes they get along and sometimes they don’t, but they always consider themselves part of a team. When the older sisters need to get together to talk about important matters, they hold a MOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters). When something difficult needs doing, it falls to the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). I had a little laugh to myself every time something called for the OAP; I firmly believe that the only way I get through the difficult parts of motherhood is the knowledge that I’m the oldest one around to deal with the mess.
In addition to the usual author bio in the back of the book, our copy of The Penderwicks includes this from the author: “By the time I was ten or eleven, I’d run out of books to read. Each week I’d go to the library hoping that one of my favorite authors had written something new. Or even better, maybe I’d find a new author who wrote just the kind of books I loved the best. But most weeks I’d have to take home books I’d already ready, some of them eight, nine, or ten times. I promised myself then that I’d become a writer someday, to give readers like me a few more books to discover and enjoy.” Is there any voracious reader who hasn’t had that thought a few hundred times?