- The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
The Penderwick daughters and their faithful hound have sturdily borne comparison to favorite families of children's literature of yore; indeed, if you were to throw the March sisters and the Bastables into a large sack, shake them up, and tip them out into the twenty-first century, you'd have a good idea of the depth and derivation of characterization in this gently comic sequel to The Penderwicks (BCCB 9/05). In it, Daddy has been widowed for four years, and his sister decides it's time to give him the mandate-to-date letter that his wife left in her charge in the days before her death. His four daughters are properly horrified at the possibility of a stepmother, but their attempts at sabotage are tempered by their reluctance to submit their father to the torture of a truly bad date. Predictably for a tale of such a nostalgic cast, the perfect woman has already moved in next door; Ianthus is a beautiful, brainy astrophysicist who also happens to be a widowed parent. As each girl finds herself embroiled in a crisis appropriate to her temperament, Ianthus proves a worthy confidante and advisor, and her toddler son and knowing feline charm the girls into the idea of a blended family almost before they know what's hit them. Those who find the plot summary excessively sweet will probably find the book so, but there are plenty of readers young and old who can ride the sugar rush, especially as it is sandwiched in substantive wit with a healthy dollop of suspense predicated on lies and deceptions that inevitably collapse on themselves. All of the elements here—death, deceit, stepfamilies, first crushes, fits of temper, literary allusions, even crime and stranger danger—are meringue-light and completely lacking in edginess; instead, Birdsall pays tender homage to contemporary kids who don't measure their worth in angst and brand names or walk around perpetually attached to devices but who do appreciate a solid, well-told story.