The Penderwicks at Last

penderwicksatlastby Jeanne Birdsall
First sentence: “Lydia believed in dancing wherever she could — on sidewalks, in supermarket aisles, libraries, swimming pools, parking lots.”
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Others in the series: The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, The Penderwicks at Point Moutte, The Penderwicks in Spring
Release date: May 15, 2018
Content: There’s some romance (all tasteful, of course), and it has a bit of an old fashioned feel. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

When we last left the Penderwicks, Batty was in 5th grade and Lydia was two. But since a two year old would make a horrible narrator of a middle grade novel, Birdsall has fast-forwarded time again: Lydia is eleven now, and everyone else is duly older. In fact, Rosalind, the oldest, is about to get married. Which she wants to do at the place where everything started: Arundel. Lydia, Batty (who is 19 now), and the dogs (Sonata and Feldspar, who is the BEST) are the advance guard: heading to the mansion to clean and get ready and hopefully ward off (the awful) Mrs. Tifton. It’s delightful to be back at Arundel, and Birdsall weaves in all the stories from the first Penderwicks book — Lydia has grown up hearing the stories but not seeing the places — which gives the book a sense of nostalgia without just rehashing the same stories. We get to see Cagney again — he’s married with a daughter Lydia’s age — and it’s just absolutely delightful. But then, the Penderwicks usually are. And I loved getting to know Lydia who is simultaneously so very Penderwick but also different because she wasn’t surrounded by sisters the way the others were.

There are, of course, Penderwicks things: an out of control soccer game; lots of music and wandering around outside (no one EVER watches TV!); friendships and family. It’s absolutely delightful and I want to be a Penderwick. I thought it would make me cry to have to say goodbye to this lovely family, but I  didn’t. It was all so perfect, so right, so very comparable to Little Women (but no one dies!), that it just made me happy all over.

This series is such a wonderful modern classic. I’m so glad Birdsall had this story to tell.

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Module 7: The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister

Agell, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: Realistic beginning chapter book.

Book Summary: At the end of her fourth grade year, India McAllister — named for the ink not the country — tries to figure out friendship, especially since her best friend is a boy and that seems to be an unacceptable thing in fourth grade; whether or not she can like her dad’s new partner, Richard;  and wonders if she will ever have an adventure (until she gets lost in the woods!).

Impressions: The reviews and summaries I read focused mostly on India’s friendship with Colby and her rivalry with Amanda, but I think that short-changes the book. India is concerned with every aspect of her life: her relationship with her parents, especially her dad who’s left and has a new partner, Richard, among other things. I liked how this one was very nondescript with that: India’s dad is gay, and has a male partner, but there isn’t a huge issue surrounding it. I thought Beatrice Bird was delightful, and enjoyed India’s relationship with her pets. And I could understand  her annoyance and confusion surrounding Colby’s sudden hanging out with Amanda, but I think it was less boy/girl friend thing and more just friend thing — if Colby had been a girl, the dynamics and feelings that India has would probably still be the same. It was a delightful story, overall; I loved the diary feel of it, including the sketch drawings.

Review: Reviewer Phelan praised the book, calling it ” rooted in a tradition that goes back to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories”, and praised it for being nuanced emotionally, especially around relationships, and called it a strong start to a series.

Phelan, C. (2010). The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. The Booklist. 106 (21), 55, 58.

Library Uses: This one would be good on a display of fun girl characters boys would like, or LGBT families, or just first in a series books. It would also make a good book for a book group for younger kids.

Readalikes:

  • Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker: Clementine is slightly younger than India (eight instead of nine) but this book has the same sort of whimsy and charm that India has. Clementine is a hilarious free spirit and the books are delightful to read.
  • Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary: The true first of the Ramona series, in which we see Ramona tackle kindergarten. The Ramona books don’t have to be read in order, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 or Ramona and her Father are probably more closely like India.
  • Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder: There aren’t many realistic fiction books featuring boys that aren’t also survivalist or some other extreme situation, but Charlie and Mouse is a great example of one. It’s younger than India, but has the same sort of down-to-earth, yet whimsical and often hilarious, feeling that India has.

Audio book: Back Home at Firefly Lake

by Jen Gilroy
Read by: Karissa Vacker
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Listen to it through Libro.fm
Content: There’s mild swearing and one pretty graphic (but not distasteful) sex scene. It would be in the fiction section, if we had it in the store.

I needed a fluffy book, and when this one showed up, I jumped at it. It’s exactly what it looks like: Cat, a single mother, and adjunct history professor moves back to her hometown of Firefly Lake, Vermont. There she meets her high school crush, Luke, a former Olympic and NHL hockey player, who is still recovering from the sudden death of his wife, the love of their life.

Of course Cat and Luke have a thing for each other. Of course things — Luke’s dead wife, Cat’s daughter Amy — get in the way. Of course the sex was hot. And, of course, there’s a happily ever after. I didn’t listen to this because the plot was fantastic or the character development was amazing, though there was some growth in the characters, which was nice. No, I wanted pure fluff, and this delivered. Which was nice.

 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare
First sentence: “On a morning in mid-April 1687, the brigantine Dolphin left the open sea, sailed briskly across the Sound to the wide mouth of the Connecticut River and into Saybrook harbor.”
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Content: There’s some violence, but it’s off screen. It’s in the Newbery Medal section of the bookstore.

I adored this book when I was a teenager. I don’t remember how I got this book, or why I got it, but I do remember reading and re-reading it endlessly. In fact, my copy, which I still have, is quite battered. I’m knee-deep in a Newbery Medal section of my class, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to see if this story held up to my recollections of it (and if I could remember why I liked it so much).

Kit Tyler is in a precarious position: raised by her grandfather on Barbados after her parents’ deaths, she is left penniless and mostly without family after his death. So, she throws everything on traveling to America, to live with her mother’s sister, whom she’s never met, in a Puritan Connecticut settlement. For most of the book, it’s a fish-out-of-water story: Kit tries and fails to fit into this strict religious community. She’s flashy, she’s never worked (they had slaves; I found some of the dichotomy between the British slave-owners in the Caribbean and the land owners in America to be interesting), she, of course is always in trouble. But Kit’s growth arc in this book is significant: after meeting Hannah, a Quaker who is ostracized from the community because she doesn’t attend Puritan services and branded a “witch”, Kit learns that having friends and helping others really is the best thing. Oh, and then there’s Nat.

Actually, I think, in the end, it was the love story between Kit and Nat that I liked as a teenager. I liked the push and pull of their relationship, how neither of them quite figured out they were Meant To Be until it was almost too late. It was very satisfying, to say the least. The other thing I got out of this was that Puritans were Awful.  At least in historical fiction. They are quick to judge, closed-minded, insular, and set on being against everything that is different or not plain. I don’t think Speare set out to condemn them; they’re not wholly bad as a group and there are some redeemable characters. But as a whole, Purtians are definitely awful.

In the end, I’m not sure I liked it as much as I did when I was younger, but I do see why I liked it so much. And it’s a good book, overall.

Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
Read by: Jorjeana Marie
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Content:  There are some instances of violence that could be intense for younger readers. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Crow has lived her entire life on a small island in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She lives with the man — Osh — who found her, washed ashore in a small boat,  as a new baby.  Her history hasn’t bothered her, but something about being 12 has got her wondering where she came from. Her questions lead to a chain of events that involves pirates, lepers on Penikese island, and finding her family.

I’ll be honest: I tried this one in print. It didn’t take. I just wasn’t compelled enough by the writing or the characters to keep going. So when I saw that it was audio, at first I was hesitant. But, I gave it a try, and maybe it was right place/right time, or maybe it was the fantastic narrator, but this time it stuck.

I loved hearing about Crow and Osh’s spartan life, getting the feel of life on the northern islands. I loved going with Crow as she discovered the history of her family, and felt for Osh as he struggled with his own feelings (maybe that was just the adult in me reacting).  I loved learning the history (of sorts) of the leper colony on Penikese, and to just get a sense of the place and time. Wolk is a good historical fiction writer, though I’m not sure her work is best suited for kids. (Well, maybe those precocious ones.) Even so, it’s a lovely book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.

 

Audiobook: The Boston Girl

bostongirlby Anita Diamant
Read by: Linda Lavin
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Content: There are some mild swear words and references to drinking and smoking. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Addie Baum is the daughter of Eastern European immigrants, who came to American when the persecution became too bad back home. Addie was born in 1900 in Boston, and grew up in a world wholly different from that her parents, and even her older sisters (the youngest who was 14 years older than Addie), knew. It was a world where Addie went to school instead of getting married young and having babies. A world where she held a job and chose love for herself. A fascinating, modern world, but one that put her at odds with her parents — especially her mother — and the way of life they had always known.

I loved this one from the start. It begins as a series of reflections of an 85-year-old Addie in response to the question asked by her 22-year-old granddaughter: “How did you get to be the woman you are today?” The whole novel felt like a personal history, complete with asides that a grandmother would say in the telling. And while it covered Addie’s whole life, the focus was on her formative years from when she was 15 until she met and married her husband. The opportunities she had (because of the people she met), her struggles with family and religion and men, her jobs and the experiences she had because of them. It was a fascinating slice of life.

And the narrator was perfect. She caught that personal history vibe and ran with it; so very often I could almost see Addie, sitting in her living room, telling this story to an interested granddaughter. No, she didn’t do voices, though she had a good Boston accent overall, but I don’t think it was needed for this. The way Lavin read it was just perfect.

As was this story.

The Golden Specific

by S. E. Grove
First sentence: “Dear Shadrack, You ask me for news of the Eerie, and I can tell you that there is no recent news of them in the Indian Territories.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Glass Sentence
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: It’s a long book, and it’s one of those that take some investment. Probably not for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, even if it’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore. I’m actually wondering if these might do better in the YA (grades 6-8) section, with the Philip Pullman books…

I’ll be honest: I don’t really remember what happened in the first book. The good thing? You don’t really need to. There’s no real sum-up at the beginning (thank heavens!) but you get the sense, fairly quickly, about what’s going on. And Grove is nice enough to let us know what we need to know as the book progresses.

Which helps, because there are three story lines going here. One is Sophia’s continuing quest to figure out what happened to her parents 10 years ago. This involves going to restricted libraries and ending up across the Atlantic (accidentally by herself) in the Papal States, looking for the lost land of Ausentintia. (I read that Austen-tia every. single. time.) Her adventures there are weird and wild, and the way Grove messes with time, religion, and fantasy are quite mesmerizing. She makes new friends, particularly Errol and Goldenrod, who are fascinating additions to the world Grove has built.

The second story line is related: it’s the diaries that Sophia goes looking  for, the writing of her mother that Sophia was looking for. (This is a second in a trilogy, so there’s a lot of loose ends.) This was the least interesting part to me; yeah, I was curious about Sophia’s parents, but not especially invested in their journey, so to have the story I was interested in interrupted with this one was a bit annoying.

The third — and my favorite this time around — story line was that of Theo, who stays behind in Boston, and attempts to prove that Sophia’s uncle Shadrack didn’t, in fact, kill the prime minister. It’s a fascinating plot line, full of deceptions and intrigue. Additionally, it has the most intriguing characters; Theo’s new friend, Nettie, is the daughter of the police inspector, and absolutely delightful.

I don’t know if it’s as strong as The Glass Sentence was, but I do think that this will be a compelling series once it’s completed.