The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall.
I’ll admit I approach award-winning children’s books with some trepidation. All too often, children’s literature awards denote books that appeal to adult librarians and book critics rather than to children. The books are like brussel sprouts on the literary table. We are told to read them because they are supposedly good for us, not because we will enjoy them.
I was happy to find that National Book Award winner The Penderwicks was an exception. Four sisters and their father take a three-week summer vacation to a rented cottage behind Arundel Hall, and become involved in the fate of the young boy who lives in the mansion. The book is funny, sweet, gentle and moving. The characters are perfectly drawn. The book is also very accessible. I read it in a single afternoon, and I’m not a fast reader. Here is a book driven by character and atmosphere rather than by plot, and yet, unlike some other books that used to drive my students crazy because “nothing happens,” this one never loses the reader’s interest. Highly recommended for girls. It will still be a tough sell for boys, but I would not cringe to see The Penderwicks taught in the classroom. That’s more than I can say for many Newbery picks.
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.
This has been sitting on the shelf for a while, and I finally got around to it. I’m glad I did. A wacky alternate reality tale for literature buffs, The Eyre Affair introduces LiteraTec detective Thursday Next, who must prevent a madman from kidnapping Jane Eyre out of her novel and destroying Charlotte Bronte’s work. Dodos for pets, vampire hunters, hot air balloon transports, time travel, Baconian extremists . . . This book is a wild, eccentric ride. If you liked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I recommend this book.