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The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

August 3, 2011

Like an elementary-school-aged child up past his bedtime, this third story about the Penderwicks, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall, comes off as less charming than the previous two. Maybe it’s that my hopes were too high when I first found out that there was a new Penderwicks book—we immediately went out to a bookstore and bought it, but then I had to wait for a while to give Eleanor an opportunity to read it first, while she recovered from wisdom teeth removal.

Maybe it’s that the childrens’ clannishness is less cute as they get older. All of twelve-year-old Skye’s worrying about being the OAP (oldest available Penderwick) is annoying, so the eventual punch line to the joke about her anxiety that her five-year old sister “Batty” will “blow up” with only two older sisters and an aunt looking out for her falls flat for me. And Skye and Jane’s repeated insistence that none of the Penderwicks is “musical” and therefore their youngest sister can’t possibly be interested in learning music is simply going too far with this annoying theme.

Maybe it’s also that, after one too many coincidences, I couldn’t buy the gigantic deux ex machina that this one delivers for Jeffrey, the Penderwicks’ fatherless friend, especially because it tasks my suspension of disbelief to see two adult strangers, who meet Jeffrey and the little girls by chance, assiduously cultivate the acquaintance of the children. For a while I wondered if it was to get closer to their aunt, but no. There may be any number of rational adults who like to spend their days entertaining children who are not related to them, but it seems unlikely that a couple of musicians on vacation so they can practice together would be among them.

I’m tired of Jane, the eleven-year-old would-be writer; her puerile attempts to write a love story don’t captivate me the way they do her family members.

There are still adventures, and some nice description of the way children see the world as endlessly exciting. An early-morning trip to see local moose is the best example in this book:
“What they’d come for was happening—moose were arriving. First came a huge cow moose, pushing her way out of the trees and sauntering casually to the water, dipping her head to drink. A great big brown beast, she was treat enough, but what came next made Skye catch her breath—two young calves, wobbly on their still-spindly legs and playfully bumping each other as they rushed to catch up with their mother….the calves teamed up on one of the golf flag poles and head-butted it until it broke in half.”

At their best, the adventures of the Penderwicks do remind me of the adventures of the children in the E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, and Arthur Ransome books. This newest Penderwick adventure, however, is a bit too precious, as if the things children are usually interested in are not interesting enough without some more adult concerns thrown in.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 10:21 am

    I didn’t mind the deus ex machina thing – it’s a children’s book, after all, and it seemed at least slightly reasonable that musicians would like to have an extremely talented kid to play music with. But yes, the other things you mention are somewhat annoying. I think I’m ready for Birdsall to do some more realistic characterization as the girls get older I liked it anyway, though.

    • August 4, 2011 7:56 am

      That’s a good point–more realistic characterization would probably bring me along quietly for more outlandish plot coincidences.

  2. August 3, 2011 10:22 am

    Um, throw a period in the preceding comment. 😛

  3. Jenny permalink
    August 3, 2011 3:17 pm

    I liked this better than you did, I think, but I agree that the first one is the best. I missed Rosalind in this one. And I still think the musician-who’s-not-the-deus-ex-machina (what’s his name?) WAS trying to get closer to the aunt. Maybe that will develop later? Anyway, I did enjoy it, but the second book felt a bit rushed to me and this one wasn’t as fleshed-out as it could have been. We’ll see, with the next one, whether they continue to be worth reading or not (I think there are going to be five.)

    • August 4, 2011 7:58 am

      Not as fleshed-out is a good way to put it. It’s not that I don’t like this one at all, but that I wanted more!

  4. freshhell permalink
    August 3, 2011 4:14 pm

    I’m not familiar with this series. Perhaps I should be? I’ll have to at least find the first one.

    • August 4, 2011 7:59 am

      Yes, you should find the first one of these. But you should read Swallows and Amazons first.

  5. August 3, 2011 7:42 pm

    Okay, all fair enough. I’d really like to see more from Jane. Because in fact, she has always bugged me. If I were little I expect I’d love her the best, because she likes writing, but as a grown-up I want to slap her. Yes, I do. I want her to do something else besides obsess over her heroine.

    (But I still heart this book and the others.)

    • August 4, 2011 8:01 am

      It’s my fondness for these characters that makes me want better for them. Jane in particular seems unrealistic. My daughter was saying that a real child writer always has something in her books that a year later, she thinks to herself “what was I THINKING with that?” Jane always seems so self-satisfied.

  6. August 5, 2011 9:08 am

    OK, your negative review intrigued me, given how much I enjoyed the other two, so I got this from the local library and devoured it in a night. I’d respectfully disagree – the other two books had plenty of deus in them, and for me that was part of the charm. I don’t think anything could top the first one (always dangerous with a series) but I bought this plot and its devices. Perhaps this is because I have spent enough vacation time at a place where adults do enjoy hanging out with kids and giving them free run to just enjoy?

    I don;t get the sense that Jane rereads her own writings – that a Sabrina book comes out, the family reads it, and Jane moves on.

    • August 5, 2011 6:16 pm

      Again, I don’t consider this a “negative” review; I meant that this one disappointed me because the others were so good. I’m saying it’s my “least favorite.”

      Many of the parents I know vacation with kids in the way you describe; as you know, we built our whole “grand tour” trip for Eleanor around the Swallows and Amazons boat cruise.

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