The first book about the feisty Penderwick sisters, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, won the National Book Award in 2005. Since then, the family has expanded in soul-satisfying ways — as has fans’ love for the series. The third volume, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, finds Rosalind summering in New Jersey while the three younger girls, plus Aunt Claire, spend two weeks in picturesque Point Mouette, Maine. Author Jeanne Birdsall talks about her inspiration and gives some tantalizing hints about future outings.
1. Possible spoiler alert: At what point in the series did you think up this book’s Big Reveal (re: Jeffrey)?
Jeanne Birdsall: And how do I answer that without giving anything away? Here goes. While I was writing the first book I knew this would happen in a future book, but it wasn’t until I was writing the second book that I knew it would happen in this particular book, the third.
2. Is love in the cards for Aunt Claire? Or did I read too much into her friendship with Turron?
JB: No, you didn’t read too much into that friendship. Thanks for noticing. Was it the jigsaw puzzles of romantic places?
By the time Turron leaves Point Mouette he’s determined to see Aunt Claire again, and she’s hoping he’ll follow through. I can’t tell you any more than that. All will be revealed in the next book.
3. Your pastoral settings — in this case coastal Maine — are always so vividly described. How much is real and how much invented?
JB: My settings are a hodgepodge of real, imaginary, and (sometimes) places I’ve read about. (Arundel, the setting for the first book, borrowed a little of E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle.) Point Mouette started out as a real place called Ocean Point, near Boothbay Harbor in Maine. I found it through dumb luck, seized on the little private beach and the long dock, then began to add and subtract. The golf course was an invention, and the pinewood came from ancient memories of my Girl Scout camp in Pennsylvania. I was forced to subtract a flying blue bug that I just couldn’t work into the story and a beautiful stone chapel I was dying to use. But I couldn’t have Dominic skateboarding on hallowed ground.
4. Is there one Penderwick sister to whom you feel the greatest connection? Has that changed as the books have progressed?
JB: I go back and forth between Skye and Batty, depending on which of them is struggling the most. (I connect with struggle.) Batty had a relatively easy time of it at Point Mouette, but Skye…didn’t. So right now I’m still feeling pretty Skye-ish. As I get deeper into the fourth book I’ll reconnect with Batty, who has lots to work out in that one.
5. Each of the books is a satisfying stand-alone while also being very much part of a whole. Can you share clues about further Penderwick adventures?
JB: The fourth, which I’m working on now, will take place five-and-a-half years after the end of the third book, which means that the three older sisters will be teenagers. However, to keep the book middle grade, everything that happens will be seen through the eyes of Batty and Ben, who will be eleven and eight respectively. Thus, two writing challenges: to portray the life of teenagers without getting inside their minds and to channel an eight-year-old boy, which I certainly never was. Challenges aside, it’s going to be fun to write about Rosalind, Skye, and Jane as teenagers. Jane will finally get her hands on all the books she hasn’t been allowed to read all these years, including Proust, which she’s reading (slowly) in the original French.
From the June 2011 issue of Notes from the Horn Book. For more on Notes — and to sign up — click here.