The Penderwicks Series

The Penderwicks is such a wonderful, timeless children's series. | Book reviews by

This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget. (Summary via

This lovely series of four books follows the Penderwick sisters as they grow up. Responsible, serious Rosalind, stubborn Skye, dreamy and imaginative Jane, and little Batty give a sweet picture of how sisters relate to each other, whether on vacation or during enormous life changes.

Each book in this series is set in a different time in the Penderwick family’s life. The first book follows the girls, their father, and their dog Hound as they set off on a family vacation that introduces them to their new best friend Jeffrey (and gets the sisters in and out of a lot of trouble!). Following stories discuss the family’s school year at home, a summer vacation that reveals several surprises, and a spring semester several years later. Even though later books in the series have different perspectives, they all offer sweet sisterly relationships and fun adventures.

I found these stories reminiscent of Hilary McKay‘s flawed, rambunctious, loving families (with the added bonus that there are no truly hate-able characters like the Casson family’s father). Throughout the series, there are additions to the family (such as Jeffrey, who becomes almost like a brother to the girls), but the four sisters remain at the core of each story. Although there are revealed secrets, drama, and difficult life changes in each book, the stories remain fun and light, even as they discuss the difficulties of growing up.

I’d recommend these books to kids who feel at home reading timeless stories with a focus on family relationships and lighthearted hijinks. If that description appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy this series no matter what your age.


Rating: Re-read Worthy

ARC: The STEM Club Goes Exploring

In this short, illustrated book, a group of kids explore various STEM careers. #spon | Book review by

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In The STEM Club GoesExploring, students explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. While interviewing STEM professionals, the students prepare to make career presentations during their school’s Favorites Day.

Join STEM Club members Fran, Sara, Nixie, Winston, Patti, Betik, Jenny, Jesse, and their teacher Mr. Day, as they make field trips to a video game company, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, and even a mine, to learn more about career opportunities for professionals in STEM fields. Author Lois Melbourne, of the My Future Story series, inspires readers to identify their passions, explore them, and shape their own future stories. (Summary via

I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to get into STEM fields, especially girls and people of color who are statistically underrepresented in these more technical fields. Because of that, I’m really rooting for the success of this book.

The STEM Club Goes Exploring is a cute exploration of different STEM-related careers, from veterinary science to geology. I love the illustrations, too. My one complaint is that it reads a bit young, but it’s definitely not a picture book–possibly suited for elementary school kids. A fun, quick read to help your young kids get interested in STEM fields.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Book Pairing: The Phantom Tollbooth and Stardust

This book pairing is a fun mix of magic, drama, and adventure. | A book review by

I’m continuing my posts in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge (you can read the previous posts here, here, and here) with another couple of books that I truly enjoyed, even before I thought of putting them together.

The books in this pairing are The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer and Stardust by my favorite, Neil Gaiman. According to BuzzFeed, here’s the connection:

It’s the playfulness of The Phantom Tollbooth that wins over its readers (and, really, it’s one of the children’s books that warrants revisiting), and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust captures that same sense expertly. When Tristan Thorn embarks on a quest to find a fallen star, he encounters witches, elf-lords, a captain of a flying ship, and all manners of eccentrics that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Milo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life. (Summary via

I read this book several times as a child and loved it, even though parts of it always creeped me out. I always loved reading about other worlds in which everything was neatly organized into specific countries (I was kind of a weird kid), and this book filled that need for me. The Phantom Tollbooth is also full of wordplay, which both children and adults can enjoy. The illustrations work perfectly with this strange, magical story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good


Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest. (Summary via

Not only a great book by Neil Gaiman, but also a pretty funny movie. (Do be forewarned, though, that if you watched the movie first, the book will be quite a bit darker and more “adult” than the movie was.) This is one of the less creepy of Neil Gaiman’s worlds, but it still has that dark, not-quite-earthly flavor that Gaiman is so good at producing. There’s adventure, humor, and lots of magic as Tristan makes his way through the land beyond the wall in an attempt to bring back a star.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Both of these books show their heroes making the leap from the dull, ordinary world into a world of magic and adventure–Milo through a tollbooth, Tristan through a wall in a seemingly empty field. Both are well written and lots of fun. If you’re into magical adventures with a sense of humor, you could do much worse than this book pairing.

Have you read either of these books? How do you think they stack up to each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Newbery Review: 1925

A review of the 1925 Newbery medal winner. | Newbery and Beyond

Once again, there is only a medal winner and no honor books for 1925’s Newbery books. I read this book several years ago, and I found it pretty cute, but forgettable.

Medal Winner: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
This book is made up of a bunch of short stories, folk tales collected from Latin America. Considering my feelings about short stories, I actually enjoyed this book pretty well. That said, I remember not a single one of the stories well enough to tell it to you. I remember talking animals and good versus evil, but that’s about it. I do remember it being easy to read and holding up pretty well for its age. Definitely take a look if you or your child are interested in the fairy tales of other cultures.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Newbery Reviews


Mini reviews of several Newbery (or Newbery-related) books I've read recently. | Newbery and Beyond

I know, I know–I’ve practically dropped off the face of the earth this week. I’ve been busy with a multitude of editing projects (check out my editing and proofreading website if you’re in need of either of those services) and I haven’t had time to write any reviews recently. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading great books, and to make up for my absence, I’m giving you a mega-post, all about the latest Newbery (and Newbery-related) books I’ve read. Enjoy!

Frontier Living by Edwin Tunis

This book provides an interesting look into–yes–life on the frontier. I’ve been interested in pioneer life ever since Little House on the Prairie entered my life, and this book helped feed that interest. This book is fairly dry, and I think if I had picked it up as a kid, I probably would have lost interest pretty quickly. Still, I can see it working as a book to read with your kids, or something to give to a child who has an obsession with frontier life. The sketches of tools, homes, and clothing are a big plus.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Guts by Gary Paulsen

Let me tell you about how much I loved Gary Paulsen’s work as a kid. He wrote Hatchet, which is a Newbery book, along with several related books. Hatchet is the story of a boy who is stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness and must survive using only his wits and the hatchet his mother gave him. He faces cold, hunger, and wild animals in his quest for survival.

In this new book, Paulsen tells the story of his own wilderness adventures, from his childhood to his adulthood. It is fascinating enough to keep an adult’s interest, but written simply enough to intrigue children–especially those who love the thought of having to survive on their own in the wild. I may be biased by my childhood love for Gary Paulsen, but this book is definitely worth a look, no matter what your age.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanor Jewett

I found this book interesting once I got into it, but it was pretty slow paced at the beginning. In the year 1171, Hugh is left at a monastery when his father has to flee England. Hugh and his new friend Dickon discover some forgotten treasures and think they might be on the path to one of the greatest treasures of all time–the Holy Grail.

Good story, but only for those kids who have the patience to work through the slower-paced writing of many years ago.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Okay, here’s the deal: I’ve actually read this book before. I remembered enjoying it as a kid, so I ordered it cheaply a few weeks ago. I read through it again last weekend, and… I don’t know why I liked it so much before. The characters are interesting, but there isn’t much of a plot. The book is basically made up of four short stories, narrated by each of the four main characters, interspersed with information about the academic bowl they are participating in under the guidance of their sixth grade teacher. Noah, Ethan, Nadia, and Julian seem like interesting, intelligent kids, but they don’t do a whole lot. I was kind of disappointed in re-reading it, unfortunately.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Review: Abel’s Island

Abel's Island is an adorable, sweet story of a mouse who ends up far away from his comfortable home and loving wife. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond

This Newbery honor book from 1977 is so cute!  It is an animal story, but shockingly, I really enjoyed it.  The illustrations are wonderful, and the main character, Abel, is a lot of fun.

This story is about a mouse named Abel who gets separated from his wife Amanda during a summer storm and becomes trapped on an island for a year.  He learns to fend for himself, and it’s all very Robinson Crusoe.  Abel is foppish, a trust fund baby who has never worked a day in his life, so his ingenuity and perseverance when it becomes clear that he will not escape the island immediately is impressive.  There are also, as I mentioned earlier, adorable illustrations.

This book is short and sweet, nothing mind-blowing, but certainly worth a look.  Abel is a believable character, as he struggles with his love for luxury, missing his wife, and his lack of experience fending for himself.  The friends (real or imagined) that he meets during his stay on the island, as well as his growing confidence and self-reliance, give Abel’s Island a unique flavor and journey.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bringing Back My Childhood | Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

If you grew up reading Nancy Drew (and who didn't?), you'll enjoy this look at the strong-willed women who created her. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

Nancy Drew.  Every girl’s childhood buddy–or at least, she was mine.  Thanks to a bookstore-owning aunt, my sister and I owned every yellow-spined title in the Nancy Drew mystery series, and we gobbled them up.  I knew from an early age that Carolyn Keene was a pen name, and that several authors had written the Nancy Drew mysteries, but until I read this book, I didn’t know the full story of how Nancy Drew was created and how deep her cultural impact became.

This book tells about the background of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was responsible for producing Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and many other childrens’ book series that were staples of my childhood.  The syndicate worked by having ghost writers complete the books of each series in complete secrecy, so if the syndicate had to switch writers, the readers wouldn’t feel disloyal to the new author.  This caused some tension between the writers and the owners of the syndicate, especially in the Nancy Drew series.  The two main writers of the Nancy Drew books, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (who was the daughter of the syndicate’s founder), fought for years over ownership of the massively popular series, which kept the syndicate afloat during some of the most difficult years in American history.

Despite all the infighting and family drama, both Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams were women who worked hard and pressed beyond the boundaries of what was considered normal and appropriate for women of their time.  Along with, of course, describing the origins of this extremely popular mystery series, Rehak also goes into detail about the women’s rights movement and how the authors of the Nancy Drew series–along with Nancy Drew herself–supported and participated in this movement.  It was a fascinating read, and if, like me, you grew up reading Nancy Drew, you must read this book.  It’s nostalgic but surprisingly pioneering and very well researched.  Awesome!

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Review Copy: Unstoppable Octobia May

Octobia May, an African-American girl living in the 1950s, solves a mystery and learns what freedom really is in this fun book. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is not what I thought it was going to be–I thought it was going to be about vampires, but instead it’s about a girl named Octobia May, who is described by her aunt as the freest ten-year-old African-American girl in the 1950s.  Her Auntie and her friend Jonah are by turns pleased with and aggravated by her constant snooping around and her big imagination.  Octobia May thinks that her Auntie’s boarders is a vampire (thus my initial impression of the book–but there’s nothing supernatural in it!), but as she tries to find proof for this allegations, she finds that, vampire or no, the boarder is not all he seems to be.  She and Jonah start their own investigation in the boarder that leads them to some dangerous places.

I enjoyed this book while I was reading it.  The mystery kept me guessing, and Octobia May was a fun character, always getting into and out of trouble.  The problem is, five days later, I remember almost nothing about the book.  So, cute as it was, it was not anything super special, and nothing stuck in my head after I finished it.

Side note: I wish I had been able to read this on real paper!  There were tons of empty picture frames in my Kindle version that I assume must have had illustrations in them, and I would have loved to see them!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Wednesdays in the Tower/Thursdays with the Crown

The sequels to the adorable Tuesdays at the Castle. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

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These two books follow the further adventures of Celie, Rolf, Lilah, and their friend Pogue, along with the Grathian prince Lulath, as they discover more secrets about Castle Glower, the magical castle that can add or subtract rooms and even interact with its occupants, as seen in Tuesdays at the Castle.  (Spoilers abound, as it’s difficult to explain the plots of these books without referring to events in earlier books.)

In Wednesdays, Castle Glower keeps adding rooms and doesn’t take any away, and when the holiday feasting room appears out of season, Celie knows something is really wrong.  Plus, she finds an egg in a brand-new tower–when it hatches, she finds a griffin, a creature that everyone thought was only a myth.  When the mysterious Wizard Arkwright appears and attempts to keep Celie and Rolf from finding out more about griffins, Celie has to discover the truth without telling anyone other than her brother, Bran, about her griffin, Rufus.  I loved the dynamics in this book of Celie’s relationship with her older brother, Bran, who wasn’t much involved in the first or third books.  Eventually, the rest of Celie’s family finds out about her griffin, and Celie and her siblings are thrown into the events of the next book.

In Thursdays, the siblings and their friends have been sent to the original home of the Castle, the Glorious Arkower.  They find wizards who are not all they seem to be and more griffins, but they have to find a way to get back home to Sleyne.  This book focuses a lot on Lulath and how, despite his silly accent and love of fancy clothes and small dogs, he’s actually a really intelligent, wise man.  I love that guy!  He’s one of my favorite characters, and he really gets to shine in this book.

Both of these books followed the same pattern as the original–interesting magical happenings, evil people trying to take control of the Castle, oddball friends who turn out to have unexpected skills, and siblings pulling together to save their beloved home.  I was a tad disappointed with the big reveal of the secrets of the Castle.  I guess I wanted more mystery, more magic; but still, it wasn’t a bad explanation.  The characters were fun, and the griffins were a great addition.  If you’re looking for a fantasy-flavored kids’ book, definitely check out this series.  There’s not a lot of depth to the books, but there is an awful lot of fun.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

(Side note: Apologies for the odd timing of this post.  I’ve had a cold for the past week and got thrown off my normal blogging schedule.  Regular posts will resume this Friday!)

Book Review: The Anybodies

This book is silly. Take a look if you're into Lemony Snicket and the like. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

This book is silly.  In a good way, sure, but silly.  It has the same kind of pseudonymous author that the Series of Unfortunate Events and the Secret series have, but this book is much more cheerful!

Fern has always felt like an oddball in Drudgers’ house.  Her parents are bland and boring, and they try to quell the strange things that Fern says and does–in particular, her fantastical stories about bats that turn into marbles, snowflakes that spell out words, and nuns that turn into lampposts.  When the Bone shows up at their door with a boy Fern’s age in tow, Fern finds out that she was switched at birth, and she goes with the Bone–her birth father–for a summer of wonder and confusion.  Fern discovers that her mother, who died in childbirth, her father, and her father’s worst enemy (the Miser) are all Anybodies, who can turn into other people or objects, and have other powers as well.  Fern and her father, in disguise, make their way to her grandmother’s house to beat the Miser to Fern’s mother’s book, The Art of Being Anybody.  Of course, hijinks ensue.

I love all the literary references to famous children’s books at Mrs. Appleplum’s house (that is, Fern’s grandmother).  In fact, Mrs. Appleplum sets up a series of tests for Fern to see if she will recognize all the references.  The narrator, though not as distinctive as Lemony Snicket, is entertaining enough.  And Fern herself is great.  She has always struggled to fit in with her bland family, and now she is in a wild new world where she can shake things out of books and reach into paintings and maybe even transform into somebody else.  The only thing that kept me from rating this book higher is that, despite all the magical and weird things that happen in the story, the world is not very vivid.  Mrs. Appleplum’s house is made almost completely out of books–let’s have more of that!  Hobbits and fairies live in the backyard–give me some details!  I’ll probably finish the trilogy, but I doubt I’ll reread the books after that.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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