Penderwicks Series and Book Just Like It!
It might have been a sheer coincidence (cue Twilight Zone music below!), but I was reading the newest Penderwicks book(The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall) with my middle child and the newest book from Karen Day (A Million Miles from Boston) with my oldest simultaneously and I was struck by the myriad of similarities between both books AND YET the books are so different AND written at the same time. Coincidence? Maybe, or perhaps there are more cosmic messages afoot?! Let’s investigate!
It’s not like the authors conspired to copy each other, yet each wrote their third book at the same time with similar themes, setting, characters, and plot. It’s also not like the authors have similar writing styles. Karen Day’s books all have characters who STRUGGLE … to fit in, to communicate, to figure out who they are… they are an angsty bunch which makes her books easy to relate to as a parent of a pre-teen girl!
Birdsall’s Penderwick family is a warm-fuzzy Norman Rockwell-ish family. Do you remember The Cosby Show where every problem gets solved happily within the half-hour? And the mother, who was a partner at a top law firm, spent an awful lot of time “working from home”? I love the Cosby family but its appeal was that it wasn’t like real life. It was a kinder, gentler version. And the Penderwicks series has this Cosby Show-like glazed pink lens that we view their seemingly stress-free lives from and this also gives the books their old-fashioned timeless appeal.
The upshot is that both books are FANTASTIC. My girls and I loved the Penderwicks series and all three of us read The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. While I thought the plot in the newest book was a little contrived, my girls did not seem to mind in the least. My oldest has read all three Karen Day books and she says that this is her favorite one! She highly recommends it! You might want to have your child read both books as well and see if he or she can add to this list of eerie similarities! As for the Twilight Zone vibe, I am still trying to figure out the cosmic message. Maybe it means that I should be planning a family vacation in Maine? That might be one takeaway. Exciting things seem to be afoot in that neck of the woods!
p.s. If you liked this post, you might like some of my others:
Wrinkles from A Wrinkle in Time (more coincidences reading chapter books that refer to A Wrinkle in Time)
5th Grade Book Club With Karen Day, No Cream Puffs (an interview with Karen Day, an activity, and a 5th grade book club)
Karen Day and The Inside Scoop on No Cream Puffs (a follow up from the previous post with insight on how Karen’s personal life ended up in her book, No Cream Puffs)
Top 10 Children’s Books: Best Old-Fashioned Conflict-Free Families (but recently published books)
Top 10 Eerie Similarities of Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall and A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day
10. This is the 3rd chapter book published by each author.
Jeanne Birdsall also has a lauded picture book, Flora’s Very Windy Day, but both these books are the third chapter book published by each author. Jeanne Birdsall’s three books are part of a 5 book series while Karen Day’s are stand-alone novels.
9. The dad in both books is a professor.
In the Penderwicks series, Mr. Penderwick famously throws out Latin all the time which he has mastered as a professor of botany. I didn’t clue into the fact that Lucy’s dad is also a professor until the second read-through, but he turns out to be a professor of history. He is writing a book about Pierson Point, where they summer, which is “a lot easier to read than the other books he’d published, textbooks for his history classes back in Boston. It was way more interesting too.”
8. The mom dies of cancer when the oldest child is 6-years-old.
In A Million Miles from Boston, Lucy has never really come to terms with her mother’s death and has a distorted reality of what actually happened during her mother’s illness. Now, about to enter middle school, Lucy’s struggles to hold onto memories of her mother, both real and imagined. It’s a much different story for the Penderwick family. They are the Huxtables of The Cosby Show in that the appeal of the family is that they don’t really deal in harsh, cold reality that the rest of us live in. Their world has much less yelling, fighting and other unpleasantness and you always know that there is going to be a happy ending. When the Penderwick mom dies, their family rallies together with Rosalind stepping it up to become the mother figure day-t0-day. She puts her youngest sister to bed every day and that routine includes a nightly bath, teeth brushing and pj changing. The dad pops in for just a goodnight kiss. If this is reality, then I want one of her as my child because my own bedtime routine with my kids is a hectic, stressful 1.5 hours of kids-who-don’t-listen.
7. Both families live in Massachusetts.
The Penderwicks live in Cameron in Western Massachusetts which I would guess to be Amherst, MA. Lucy’s family from A Million Miles from Boston lives in Boston.
6. Both families are vacationing in Maine.
It’s true that not all the Penderwicks are in Maine in the third book. It’s a smaller contingent consisting of Aunt Claire, Skye, Jane, Batty, and Hound (and they’ve managed to get Jeffrey as well!). They are staying in a rented cottage they’ve never been to before in Point Mouette. I am not exactly sure where this is in real life but it’s along the coast of Maine about a hundred miles north of the border. I am guessing that this is near Portland, Maine. It could be Yarmouth or Freeport. Lucy’s family has a family cottage that belongs to her grandparents in the fictional town of Pierson Point and she’s summered there since she was a baby. Technically it’s ninety miles from Boston, so this could be York, Ogunquit, or Kennebunk. (Kennebunkport is where the Bush family has a compound).
5. Both families are in for a big surprise from the Maine neighbor next door.
I can’t spoil The Penderwicks at Point Mouette so suffice it to say that it’s a really BIG surprise revealed towards the end of the book! Lucy is in for a big surprise too but you’ll read about it at the beginning of the book!
4. The new neighbor boy is really annoying!
Yep, there is a new boy nearby in both books and he’s annoying! In The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, he’s Dominic, the boy down the street at the Inn, that Jane is fascinated with … good looking but with no personality. He’s not good enough for Jane! Lucy’s neighbor boy, Ian, is more of an enigma that she has to puzzle through to find out the real truth.
3. Both families own great dogs!
There is no doubt about it that these are some of the best dog characters ever written or owned! Superior, Lucy’s dog in A Million Miles from Boston, was a trained assistance dog who is as special as her name suggests and is Lucy’s rock. She’s a black Labrador. The Penderwick’s dog, Hound, is part babysitter and part guardian angel for Batty, the youngest. As amiable as protective, Hound is the kind of dog you dream about for a family dog. He even gets along with cats! I don’t picture Hound as an actual hound breed though, and in the cut art cover illustration, he appears to be lab-ish or mutt-ish but certainly not a Basset Hound or a Beagle. In fact, I can’t picture him as a Hound. Do you?
2. Both dads in books are moving towards a serious relationship that could result in a stepmom.
Actually the second Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, deals with this topic and Rosalind couldn’t be more upset with the prospect of a new step monster … I mean stepmother. Suffice it to say that it all works out in the end, Cosby show style! In A Million Miles from Boston, Lucy’s dad has found love again and he struggles to get Lucy’s support. She isn’t ready to accept someone new into her life, no matter how nice that person is. To me, Lucy’s scenario is more realistic; her prospective stepmother isn’t a beauty but has many appealing qualities if Lucy took the time to get to know her. She’s patiently reaching out to Lucy but it’s not working. Will Lucy give people a chance to see them for who they are and if she does, what will happen? That’s the beauty of this book!
1. Girls coming of age.
With four girls in the Penderwicks series, there is plenty of girl angst but in The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, it’s not real angst this go around. Yes, it’s true that Skye is being tested as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) and she’s not loving the heavy burden of responsibility that it brings but it’s nice not to have “too adult-like” Rosalind on the scene. Rosy is getting a much-needed break on the Jersey Shore with her best friend Anna, and while I suspect that there is not much fist-pumping action Jersey Shore style, she is largely out of the picture here in this third installment. And Jane is researching love for her newest book and again, it doesn’t seem that Jane will get her heartbroken as her love interest is a vain and vacuous skateboard rat. Emphasis on the rat. And truly, Jane’s crush did not seem very serious or emotionally impairing though her “insta-crush” is reminding me of my fifth grader’s peers who are starting to notice boys. I think that it’s actually Batty who has the biggest leap in development. As the youngest of the Penderwick girls, she’s been “baby” Batty. With Rosalind as the super responsible child, Skye as the math genius, and Jane as the writer, she needs her own identity and place in this talented family beyond the youngest. At Point Mouette, Batty discovers that she has musical talent and this gives her quiet poise and inner confidence as the “musician” in the family and her musical ability also helps the family to remember their mother’s love of music. I am eagerly awaiting the next Penderwicks book to see where this storyline leads!
Karen’s Day’s characters are always in a state of angst and Lucy is no different. She struggles against change yet she can’t avoid it. Her friends are starting to notice boys but she’s not ready for that. She’s about to start middle school which is scary and while she feels anxious about it, she’s not really able to process or communicate her emotions.
I thought of one more. Please chime in as well because I’m sure there are more now that the newest Penderwicks is (finally!) out.
11. Saving for Big Purchase.
Batty is trying to save, bless her heart, for a piano now that she’s discovered her hidden musical talent. In Penderwick style, the whole gang pitches in to help her collect lost golf balls from the golf course nearby. They end up setting up a “golf stand” á la lemonade stand in front of the country club. In typical Penderwick fashion, no one expected a Penderwick to have musical ability though their diseased mother loved music and, I believe but correct me if I’m wrong, played the piano. There is an absent-minded professor-ish vibe throughout the series which is charming and also helps make the plot move seamlessly and non-traumatically. I pray to god that Mr. P and Iantha will spring for the piano in book 4 because god help us all if all Batty gets to play is that harmonica. Even though I don’t have to listen to it, even reading about her practicing Taps on the harmonica puts mental images of screechiness in my mind!! I don’t think she raised enough money from the golf stand to even professionally move a decent piano to her house but I love that she is so persistent and enterprising.
Lucy, on the other hand, has to work hard to earn money by running a summer camp for little kids. We parents all know how much work that is!!! Kudos to her. She ends up buying the neighbor’s kayak as a present for her father, and I can’t help but think that the kayak is a metaphor for much, much more. The kayak certainly represents her mother and father in healthier times as this was an activity that they both enjoyed doing together. The kayak also represents taking risks. Lucy is scared to go on the kayak and Ian, of all people, is able to coax her on board. In this way, he helps her tremendously out of her fog of fear and suppressed trauma that has marked her life post-death of mom. There is so much change going on with Lucy and she is resisting as much as she can in a “not-getting-on-board” kind of way though she just can’t win this battle against time. It was satisfying that the kayak, as a present to her dad, is also a way that she can bless his new girlfriend, soon to be stepmother, by letting her take the kayak out. It’s symbolic both to us, the reader and to her dad’s girlfriend. If the kayak represents acceptance of change and the ability to take risks, then all the more reason to commend Lucy for actually raising a fair chunk of $$ to be able to purchase it. As Lucy climbs back into the proverbial saddle as the summer ends, I know I was cheering for her.
I know that Karen Day doesn’t write sequels thus far, but I would love to read a sequel for this book. Maybe Lucy can help Ian, even inadvertently, in the same way, that he helped her take risks, in his own struggles to find his place in his own family. And maybe there is a first kiss between them, even as her other friends vie for his attention? Middle school is a fertile ground for the ups and downs of self-discovery and I would love to hear what happens to Lucy as she enters her new school and gains a new stepmother. And Superior isn’t getting any younger. What happens when her beloved dog starts to slow down or even approach the end of her life? Can Lucy handle another traumatic loss? The PT girlfriend is another person that I really connected to and would like to learn more about. If you agree, let’s contact Karen Day and encourage her to write more! You never know…
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.