The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is one I have been reading for years and have yet to tire of. The series is about four sisters named Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Shortly after Batty, the youngest, was born, their mother passed away, leaving their father to care for them. Mr. Penderwick is a botanist who throws out Latin phrases along with advice to his daughters. He can be quite lenient and unsure of his judgement, but he has his daughters’ respect and love. 

I love how each of the sisters is so unique and wonderful in their own way, and how Jeanne Birdsall writes from their perspectives is amazing. The sisters have such contrasting qualities, but these qualities compliment each other. Their father raises them with solid values, and though they make some mistakes, they are incredibly down-to-earth characters who find ways to solve any issues they have.

One aspect I find entertaining about their relationships with each other is the meetings they have, which are called “MOPS”, or Meeting of Penderwick Sisters. The sisters discuss problems they’ve noticed with their family or friends, and how they may be able to solve them. Despite their separate personalities and occasional arguments, the sisters are still so close and supportive of each other.

Rosalind is kind and compassionate, and is a wonderful older sister for her siblings. She is especially fond of her sister Batty, who is very attached to her. Her maturity and leadership results in her sisters looking up to her, even when she questions her own abilities.

Skye is adventurous and impatient with frivolity. Her relationship with Batty is entertaining to read about; Skye is uncertain with how to act with her younger sister while maintaining a tough exterior. 

Jane is a writer, with her mind constantly wandering, even during conversations (which tends to irritate Skye). On the Penderwicks’ trips throughout the series, Jane consistently manages to haul a stack of books with her. 

Batty is curious and shy, and she loves animals. Her sisters are protective of her, even if some of them pretend they aren’t. 

As the series progresses, the sisters grow older, and their changes in character are interesting to see. Though the plots of these books don’t revolve around a real villain or conflict, the stories are still so exciting, engaging, funny, and heartwarming. This really is a wonderful series, and the audiobooks read by Susan Denaker are amazing as well!

– Mia T.

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

maniacmagee_jerryspinelliJeffrey Lionel Magee lives a normal life until his parents are killed in a tragic trolley accident. He’s sent to live with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan and despite Dot’s sporty name, it’s not a fun household. Uncle Dan and Aunt Dot are strict Catholics who hate each other, meaning Maniac grows up in a loveless, largely silent house. When he’s 11 years old, he’s finally had enough, and takes off running. Yup, literally running. He runs for a couple hundred miles and a year, and ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.

Maniac doesn’t know it yet, but Two Mills is a divided town. (Okay, well, maybe the name should have been a clue.) The East and West End are separated by Hector Street. Maniac’s first stop is the East End, where he meets Amanda Beale and her suitcase of books. Maniac goes back and forth between the East and West End, making a few friends and mostly enemies, and for some reason never really noticing that the West End is entirely white and the East End is entirely black.

When the Beales realizes that Maniac is homeless, they take him in as a member of their family. Life is great for a while, but eventually the East Enders start getting him down. See, not everyone loves the idea of a white kid living with a black family in a black neighborhood. So Maniac (after a quick detour solving Cobble’s Knot) takes off.

Long story short, he moves in with a buffalo family and then meets Earl Grayson, a washed-up former minor leaguer. Things are really hunky dory for a while: Maniac’s got a temporary dad, Grayson learns to read, they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then Grayson…dies. And Maniac is alone. Again.

Maniac’s not doing so well this time, and ends up cold, starving, and alone in Valley Forge. Good thing Russell and Piper McNab find him on their way to Mexico. These two little hoodlums provide a reason for Maniac to stick around for a while, in a nasty, nasty house filled with some nasty, nasty people.

But the little McNabs need Maniac, and he steps up. Eventually, Maniac leaves them behind as well to move back in with Baby Buffalo and his mom (really). He’s living there when his friend/enemy Mars Bar Thompson and his adopted sister/BFF Amanda Beale find him and make him come home. That’s right, home. To his family. It looks like Maniac has finally found what he’s looking for.

-Katharine L.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

adventuresoftomsawyer_marktwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, chronicles a few of the adventures of 12-year-old Tom Sawyer. Living on the Mississippi River, Tom lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Tom gets into many misadventures and he just as deftly gets out of them. At times, when Tom is punished, one can see how he gets out of trouble and chores by manipulating his friends (though not necessarily in devious ways).

Tom and his friend, Huckleberry Finn (the subject of another book by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), get into all kinds of trouble, from seeing things they were not meant to see, to running away with friend Joe Harper to an island, to going treasure hunting and discovering a dangerous secret. Tom also indulges in more normal pastimes, like playing pretend and going on picnics (though he does get lost in a cave with Becky Thatcher, a girl he is trying to impress). Overall, I thought that this book was a good read, as it was relaxing in some places and funny in others. Plus, in addition to being a nice book about the adventures of a child in the past, it also had some moments where I was figuratively gripping the edge of my seat to see what happened next.

-Aliya A.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library