Could fifth ‘Penderwicks’ book be the last?

  • “The Penderwicks at Last”

  • “Season of Dreams”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


By Jeanne Birdsall

Alfred A. Knopf


Northampton children’s author Jeanne Birdsall hit the big time when her very first book, “The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy,” won a National Book Award in 2005.

But that was just the start. Birdsall followed with three more volumes on the spirited Penderwick girls and their adventures in their home in the Massachusetts town of Cameron (a town that sounds a bit like a composite of Amherst and Northampton) with their absent-minded father, Martin, a college botany professor. The books have made for a best-selling series for elementary and middle-school readers.

Now Birdsall has completed her fifth — and what might be the final — book in the series. In “The Penderwicks at Last,” 11-year-old Lydia, who wasn’t even born when the first book took place, comes to the fore, as she’s about to find out about the family’s storied summer spot in the Berkshires, Arundel, that shaped the lives of her older sisters in the first book.

“The Penderwicks at Last” takes place about 15 years after that debut novel, so older sisters Rosalind, Skye and Jane, then 12, 11 and 10, respectively, are now in their mid-to-late 20s and live elsewhere. Lydia’s favorite sister, Elizabeth — better known as “Batty” — is away at college in Boston, and Lydia, who loves to dance, is anxiously awaiting her return home as the book opens.

The family, which now includes Iantha Aaronson Penderwick, Lydia’s mother and Martin’s second wife, and Lydia’s step-brother, Ben, is all coming together for Rosalind’s wedding, set to take place at Arundel. And in keeping with Birdsall’s past Penderwick books, there’s no shortage of quirky twists and characters involved, like some errant animals and Arundel’s cranky estate manager.

The Penderwicks series has won praise for summoning a less complicated time and for its sense of humor. In the new book, for instance, Lydia’s becoming a little disenchanted with serving as a stock character in the home movies her brother, Ben, makes with friend, Rafael.

“So far, she’d been a child genius murdered by her country’s enemies, a chess champion killed by her insane rival, and Joan of Arc burnt at the stake … Weary of dying for her brother’s art, Lydia wished he would find a new theme.”

Publishers Weekly writes, “The excitement and boisterous activity that permeate all the previous books are in abundance here as well, as Lydia’s siblings join her at Arundel, showcasing their individual skills and working together to creatively solve all conflicts during MOPS (meetings of Penderwick siblings).”


By Jonathan A. Wright

Brook Hollow Press


Local builder Jonathan Wright has been writing for years and has turned to poetry in particular in the last several years, releasing the collection “After the Rain” in 2014 and two chapbooks in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

For his second collection, “Season of Dreams,” Wright spent two weeks last spring, as part of an artist’s residency, in a rustic shack on the northern tip of Cape Cod, in an area known as the Peaked Hill Dunes. From the journals he kept during his stay, Wright fashioned new poems that speak to the images and sounds of sky, sand, ocean and wind.

Many are impressionistic, inspired by a passing moment or feeling: the color of a bird, the movement of shadows across the land. In “Between Rains,” Wright reflects on the texture of the clouds and the feel of the sky when it clears.

“Shades of light and gray; / strands of  cotton wick and piping, / threaded in the sea and sky / between the rains … The sky is so big when the rain relents, / its water spent; / the air is clear, / opens out forever ...”

“Season of Dreams,” published by Brook Hollow Press of Hatfield, also includes numerous color photos that complement the poems, ranging from sculpted ridges of sand to closeups of shells and grass to picturesque sunsets.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at: spfarrer@gazettenet.com.