The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

Longtime readers will enjoy Birdsall’s Penderwicks at Last, a charming finale to this beloved middle grades series. 

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall. Knopf, 2018. 304 pages.

  • Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-12
  • Recommended For: All ages, especially as a read aloud or independent read for ages 8-12.

Eleven year old Lydia loves to dance. Naturally, she is dancing while waiting for her 19-year-old sister Batty to arrive. The Penderwick family has begun to gather for an important announcement about Rosalind’s upcoming wedding to … {you didn’t think I’d give it away, did you?}. That night, Jane, Rosalind, Ben (the only brother), Lydia, Batty, and Mr. and Mrs. Penderwick have gathered in the family home. Skye is on speaker phone so she can hear it, too: Rosalind and her fiancé are going to get married at Arundel! Jeffrey, as current owner of the fabled estate, has given his blessing and promised that his cantankerous mother, Mrs. Tifton, will be absent while the Penderwick family is there. Can it be? Will Lydia finally get to see Arundel, setting of so many stories her older sisters tell with nostalgic delight?

And so the Penderwick series ends in the same place it began: summertime at Arundel, complete with Cagney (and his delightful family), an assortment of funny animals, occasional appearances by Mrs. Tifton, and a gathering of all the extended family members the Penderwicks have added over the years. Friendships are made, love is in the air, and the youngest sister of the Penderwicks is as fully realized as each of the others have been.

Birdsall’s gift for celebrating each character’s uniqueness and gifts shines in this volume as much as it ever did. Each new character in this volume is a worthy addition to the canon of Penderwicks, and each girl from the earlier stories has matured into a lovely young woman (and Jeffrey has matured nicely as well). Marriage is important and family is celebrated, even when it includes the foibles of eccentric mothers, brother-sister rivalries, and impromptu games of soccer that ruin a wedding rehearsal. This final volume doesn’t have quite the complexity or emotional heft of some of the earlier volumes, particularly The Penderwicks in Spring. Nonetheless it is a charming read with lots of details that will stay with readers (I need a chicken named Hatshepsut…).

When we first met the Penderwicks so many years ago, readers rejoiced to meet an updated take on the beloved sibling stories of Nesbit, Alcott, and their ilk. This latest is the final installment in the series of 5, and long-time readers will enjoy it as an ode to the family they’ve come to love. But new readers should begin with the first volume, and we’re here to introduce them.  For more on our thoughts about the Penderwicks in general, see Janie and Betsy’s discussion from a few years ago, and follow the links to our reviews.

Cautions: none

Overall Rating: 4.5

  • Artistic Rating: 4.5
  • Worldview Rating: 4.5

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Meredith on May 28, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    How I love the Penderwicks! It’s so nice to have a series where family is revered, and Birdsall’s writing is wonderful. The personalities of the siblings are so different and so charming!

    The new series about the Vanderbeeker family reminds me a great deal of the Penderwicks. I eagerly anticipate the release of the second book in that series.

  2. Marie Augusta on December 2, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I loved it. It was an excellent end to the Penderwicks.

  3. Gianna on December 4, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Absolutely love. This. BOOK! I wish this series would never end, but I own all the books and am content reading these again and again. They will never get old! Penderwicks, if you have to leave, this book is a nearly perfect way to say goodbye. DON’T READ WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED OR READ THIS BOOK YET.

    I am very, very, disappointed that Skye and Jeffery (Hope you read this book already!) don’t end up together.??? I mean, Batty and Jeffery work fine, but, like, Batty was perfect with Wesley, and Skye was perfect with Jeffery. I mean, c’mon, Birdsall, Skye’s just gonna go ahead and marry this “Dusek” wherever he came from, and Batty just dumps Wesley and his faithful dog Hitch for no good reason. Batty and Jeffery as besties? Sure! But Batty and Jeffery TOGETHER? Mmmm, NO. My emotions (in order) after reading this book (But only regarding the whole Skye, Dusek, Jeffery, Batty and Wesley fiasco; the rest of the book was hilarious, content, sweet, and brought back memories from when I first fell in love with the Penderwicks; the rest of this book is flawless) : ?????????????

    But other than that, I am very happy with this book. A bit disappointed the series has come to an end, but I get it. She’s been working at this for like 20 years, and it was time to move on. Plus, what better way to end the series? (Other than, you know, SIGH.) I am probably not going to like anyone who isn’t sad to see the Penderwicks go. Jeanne Birdsall, you are a fabulous writer! It sounds like I’ve been dissing you, but really, I just don’t share your opinion, nor did I when I read Little Women. Disappointed again, although honestly, I like your books better than Little Women. I guess becasue they’re like the Marches only modern, which helps, and of course, have their own little quirks. ? Thank you for bringing us The Penderwick series! ?

    • Gianna on December 4, 2020 at 1:50 pm

      BTW, I’m 11 years old, and I first read The Penderwicks Book One at Age Seven or Maybe Six. ?

    • Janie Cheaney on December 5, 2020 at 4:50 am

      Gianna – Thanks for your perspective! As you obviously know, thousands of readers were disappointed with Louisa May Alcott for breaking up Jo and Laurie. She didn’t really want Jo to end up with anyone but Professor Bauer was kind of a compromise. I guess we all have our literary disappointments, but we can be thankful for excellent books and writers anyway.

  4. Tiny Rey on March 25, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    I was slightly disappointed at the ending of Skye, Jeffery, and Batty’s love lives. Batty was perfect with Wesley and Skye was perfect with Jeffery, I wish it’d just ended like that.

    Cons for me:

    – the romances
    – Skye’s character felt off
    – Lydia wasn’t as interesting as the other Penderwicks to me (still liked her though)

    – BEN WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!! His sarcastic and funny comments were perfect and he’s now my favorite!
    – Jane making the dresses were so on brand for her
    – Ben making the movie with Lydia and Alice to make Jack jealous
    – the whole jack ending was cute
    – Ben and Rafael’s friendship even though Rafael wasn’t in it, he was still mentioned
    – Rosy and Tommy getting married
    – Ben being such a great older brother

    • Janie Cheaney on March 26, 2021 at 7:20 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s always fascinating to see how others responded to the books we love.

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