The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of 4 Sisters, 2 Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall.
The Plot: Four sisters (Rosalind, 12; Sky, 11; Jane, 10; and Batty, 4) spend summer vacation in a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains.
The Good: This is an old-fashioned style book about siblings having fun together. Oh, they fight sometimes and are jealous, but at the heart of it they are a group of sisters who love each other fiercely. Their adventures are important to them, but they are not outlandish or overly dramatic; instead, this book captures the fun of the little things that really happen. How they spend the summer is typical; yet, despite being "typical", Birdsall makes the tale and the sisters compelling. This book has kids you want to know, doing things you want to do.
As an adult reading this story, I also was impressed at how Birdsall updates this Alcott-like story. (Speaking of Alcott, there was a while where it seemed everything had four sisters. Little Women, of course; but also Little House on the Prairie; the Moreau family; Four Daughters).
Anyway: on the surface, the old-fashionedness is in the freedom. Mom is dead (cancer); Dad appears to be absentminded (he loses the directions to the summer cottage); the four girls have a great deal of freedom to play and visit neighbors and get into and out of trouble.
Go a little deeper, and it's an illusion. Oh, yes, Mom is dead; and Dad has his own interests. But the freedom is illusionary; its true that there are no scripted play dates and summer camp and lessons. It's also true that the sisters never leave the grounds, because the cottage is part of a larger property. The neighbors are those who live in the mansion and carriage house on the property. There is enough freedom for the girls to have control of their days and their play; but it is done within established boundaries. So the Penderwicks has appeal for kids who want that freedom and parents who remember days spent without scripted lives; yet it is always safe. There is no real risk or threat or danger to the girls.
The more I think about this book, the more I like it. Because it shows that "old fashioned" fun isn't old-fashioned. And that an "old fashioned" book can be well written and enjoyable.
Moment in the book that I took too seriously: in reading about Mrs. Tifton, I kept picturing her as this old nasty lady. Then I did the math and realized that she's younger than me. I just could not picture her as a young nasty lady.
Anna at Big A Little A recommended this book to "anyone who likes to read." This is also a favorite at Here in the Bonny Glen.