This is the book I would have loved to have read and re-read when I was a girl!!!
That being said, I'm just not sure what age to begin your child on this one. The publisher's recommendation is age 9, and I think I'll go along with that. I started to read it aloud to my brood . . . and they didn't want me to put it down. Meanwhile, I was reading ahead every chance I could get.
If you have a tween who is looking for a good read, I really liked this one (the brood did too!). It's a page turner of an adventure read. Nice and clean. Each character has his/her own special talent: from concert level pianist to mathematician, from botanist to storyteller, from nurturer to problem solver to athlete, so subtly this book encourages individuality with a positive vocabulary.
Yet at the same time, the adults can appear rather foolish --> from the absentminded-professor widowed father and a fairytale-like-wicked-stepmotherish snooty mother. And as an adventure story, there is some secrecy and sneaking. Some critics also contest that it's an idyllic, nostalgic, blast-from-the-past that's attempting to display a modern, American childhood. Those are most of the criticisms you'll run into.
So what do I think? Personally, I think it's a more modern approach to an adventure story for those of us who love the Boxcar Children. If you'd like to teach your reader to think critically, this could be a good, clean, adventure story to promote dialogue. Have your own family book club around it. Discuss these various assessments, and encourage your child to verbalize his/her own analysis. (Either way, you may want to do your own research rather than taking my word for it.)
So what's is the award-winning book The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (c. 2007) all about? Here's what the publishers have to say:
This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.
Here are more Penderwick sequels: