Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer as it never was

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. The Summer Before Boys
Julia and Eliza are the same age, but Julia is Eliza's aunt because Eliza's mother is 22 years older than Julia. When Julia's mother, a nurse, is deployed to Iraw with the National Guard, Julia is sent to live at Eliza's house because of her father's heavy work schedule. The girls don't mind at all-- they love hanging out together at the inn where Eliza's father works. They swim, walk in the woods, and get free ice cream from the lady who runs the gift shop when they can sneak in and avoid the eye of the owner. They like to pretend that they live at the time of Louisa May Alcott and pretend that they wear long dresses and have more formal codes of conduct. When Julia becomes interested in a boy, Michael, whose father also works at the inn, she and Eliza come to blows, which results in a crisis involving Eliza running away. Also of concern to Julia is her mother's return; she frequently sites statistics about women who were killed in various wars. As all summers do, this summer when boys were a new interest will end, and Julia will be a different person. How will Eliza deal with that?
Strengths: If you are looking for a book portraying a leisurely summer, this is it. Baskin always does good quirky characters, and Julia's angst is portrayed in a very realistic manner.
Weaknesses: See rant below.
People Who Liked This Book:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Waking Brain Cells (with list of more reviews)

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette.
The Penderwicks face another summer, and more crises, in this third installment of the series. Their father is off on his honeymoon and the eldest sister, Rosalind, is spending this two weeks with a friend. This leaves Skye as the Oldest Available Penderwick (OAP) when they accompany their Aunt Claire to Point Mouette, Maine. Luckily, despite his evil mother, Jeffrey is able to join them, and the neighbor, Alec is very friendly. The three sisters spend their summer relying on each other and getting into all sorts of scrapes. Skye is angst ridden about being the OAP and doesn't want to mess anything up. And why is Jeffrey talking about whether or not they will some day marry? They are 12! Jane is trying to write her novel, but also falls desperately in love with Dominic, a dashing boy on a skateboard. Batty learns to play the harmonica and piano, and collects golf balls. When Aunt Claire sprains her ankle, they all band together to take care of all of the household duties without alarming their father or Rosalind. Family secrets are discovered, and the bonds between the friends and family grow ever stronger.
Strengths: Another leisurely summer book. If you can't get away to the coast of Maine (and really, who does these days?) you can at least read about it.
Weaknesses: See rant below.
People Who Liked This Book:

Rant: The Booklist review for The Penderwicks highlights why I don't care for this sort of book: "Adults who have been longing to find books for children that remind them of their own beloved childhood favorites, look no further." While there are a few children who are looking for literary, atmospheric, old fashioned books, I don't know any of them personally. Except me. I was that child forty years ago, and even then, no one else I knew was reading Enright or Alcott or Montgomery. The two Penderwicks books I bought have never been checked out even though I try to give them to children. Do adults love them? Yes. Do I need them in my library? Not until I get a group of girls who take up giving tea parties and wearing skirts to school.

My fear is that all of the adults who adore these books will try to give them to the wrong children, or worse yet, use them as class read alouds.

The question that remains is how much my mother wanted to slap me when I was mired in my Alcott/Montgomery phase.

They say that there is a fine line between love and hate, and this is certainly true in this case. After reading these two books, and wanting to violently slap Jane for her actions on page 162 ("Jane knew she was gliding, graceful and proud, like a maiden on her way to meet Peter Pevensie, High King of Narnia. And since that was how she looked, she was also thinking maidenly thoughts. About how much she loved this boy, Dominic, and how this would be their first real time together since the love for him had captured her, enveloped her, devoured her." And we wonder why Dominic is scared off???), I had to read three of Enright's books, The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five.

My copies of these are a wonderful, decrepit rebound edition deaccessioned from the public library. The edges of the musty pages are rounded with wear, and as I sat on the porch reading about Mona, Oliver, Rush and Randy going about their adventures under the watchful eye of their maid, Cuffy, I sighed happily. I wanted to live next door to them and help them dam up the creek, and collect scrap metal, and spend rainy afternoons in the attic putting together plays.

I guess why I am slightly angry at new versions of this literature is that it portrays a type of summer that hasn't existed for a good 50 years, probably since the Melendys and Henry Reed gave up their horses for those new fangled motorcars, and at the very least is not accessible to 95% of the population. Is it fair to hold it out as a possibility?

Apparently, I am too emotionally involved on some weird level to be coherent about my feelings on these books. Suffice it to say: No demand. If there is, I will start the girls on Enright and Seredy and Sorenson and go from there.

1. 65 Miles 2. 55 books 3. 42 quilt tops


  1. Oh dear. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette was the first Penderwicks book I really liked, but even then I had to overlook some silliness (see: Jane. And Batty--even her name annoys me). On the other hand, you and I would have been kindred spirits.

  2. I'm sorry to say my little family enjoyed the first two Penderwick books as read alouds as we went on our family vacation this summer to, um, the coast of Maine. So when we got to this one after our return we were all delighted. And no, we never wondered for a second why Dominic was afraid of Crazy Jane. And neither my wife nor I would recommend this as a class read aloud. But the first book was chosen for our districts yearly Reader's Rally and was enjoyed by the group (even a couple of boys) and while I wouldn't call the demand high, both books get checked out and I'll buy at least one copy of the third. You may be right, it may be more of an adult favorite in the long run, but hey, my 8 year old loves them and has turned her dollhouse family into ''the Penderwicks.'' She caught me watching the USA women's soccer and called it ''Skye and Jane's sport!'' I don't know what that means, but there you go. Maybe we've ruined her.

  3. My niece says she enjoyed the first two Penderwicks, but, nonetheless, I totally appreciate your rant. Over and over again I read lovely children's books that I wonder if any child will have anything to do with, and I know that I am often the only person in my town who checks some highly regarded literary, atmospheric YA novels out of our library. So I think you have a point.

  4. You know, you kind of put my feelings about The Penderwicks into words perfectly. I book talked it to death with my 4-5th graders last year & never moved from the shelf. My only way to describe it that it feels like a "classic" and that does NOT resonate with kids! But I loved it.

  5. I wonder if reading the Melendy books spoils one a bit for the Penderwicks! I have loved the Melendys for not quite forty years (maybe 37), and the Penderwicks left me unmoved.

    Have you ever tried Hilary McKay's Casson family series, which starts with Saffy's Angel? You might enjoy them...

  6. Good point about demand, but I think you're being a little too hard on these books. About Jane--she's supposed to act nutty, and Dominic is supposed to think, "Huh?" if not, "Run away!" Kids with crushes can be like that, and the author is having fun with Jane's intensity juxtaposed against D's cluelessness.

    I can think of some girls who would like this book; they're the same ones that like The Secret Garden and Ballet Shoes even in this day and age. But I think they're a little younger than your students, actually.

    As for this type of summer, I'm guessing it's a bit more likely than experiencing all of the fantasy adventures I read!

  7. This brought back a memory of reading the Enright books as a child. I always felt they were sort of "daydreamy" and I read them but without much clue, sometimes, as to what was going on or identification with the characters. I didn't dislike them but I never loved them.

  8. The Penderwicks series is really for elementary school students. The middle school kids that I know from our library programs would probably not pick them up. They have done fairly well in our library system. The first was on a Battle of the Books list several years ago, so that has helped with its relative popularity.

  9. Sorry to be the Spelling Nazi, but did those kids really "damn up the creek"? Hard to believe those kids were that angry at an innocent little creek. Maybe you misspelled because you were in the middle of a rant. But I also have to ask--where is Iraw and why was Julia's mother deployed there?