There is a WONDERFUL book by Jeanne Birdsall called, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. I pulled it off a book cart in the library of my “old” school about four years ago now. . .could it have been that long???. . .RIGHT after it was published. Our wonderful librarian always snatched up new books to have for the beginning of the next school year, and she always let ME take them home for a test drive over the summer. This one was a favorite from the moment I laid eyes on it. In this case, you CAN judge a book by its cover–it was beautiful.
From all appearances, it was going to be a girly story about girly girls. And it is about girls. . .mostly. . .but they are girls that have a dog named Hound who eats “in haste and repents at leisure”–normally by barfing all over one of the girls’ shoes. The most feminine LOOKING of the Penderwick sisters turns out to be the tomboy with a temper to boot. The entire book is a wonderful family-safe tale that snaps with sly humor.
At the time I read it, Victoria was 7 and a little young for it, so I kept on recommending it to my 6th graders and while I was busy doing that, Victoria grew up. My friend Rhonda asked nearly a year ago if Victoria had read it. And she had not. So Rhonda sent her a copy and Victoria devoured it just like I had. Last week, I pulled it off the shelf as a bed time story for the kids. I knew Thad might not read it on his own, but I could front load it a bit to make him interested. He has loved it. Especially the barfing dog.
So, the other night we get to a part in the story when Skye has put her foot in her mouth, thereby defiling the Penderwick Family Honor. Three of the four sisters end up taking a walk with the the Very Interesting Boy (whom Skye impugned) to “clear the air.” The youngest Penderwick, Batty, has wandered off and not been missed by the sisters who are listening to the Very Interesting Boy tell them a story about a horrid bull that lives behind the gate in front of which they are standing. . .
“Jeffrey told Jane to put her eye to one of these knotholes and look through to the other side. “It’s just a field,” said Jane. “There should be a bull over there, ” said Jeffrey. “Nope, no bull.” “Let me look.” Jane moved aside to make room for Jeffrey. You’re right. I don’t see him, either,” he said. “He must be in the barn today.”
Skye tapped her foot impatiently. The truth was, she thought, there was no bull. That boy was just trying to impress Jane.
“He gored a man right in this very field,” said Jeffrey, looking back at Jane. “Oh!” gasped Jane. “Did the man die?” “Almost. . .Cagney told me all about it. The man’s guts fell out of his stomach and it took three doctors to stitch him back up again. Some people signed a petition to have the bull shot, but the police said it was the man’s own fault, because he was trespassing in the bull’s field. . .”
. . .Stay close to your sisters, Rosalind had told Batty, and Batty had stayed pretty close while they were all walking, but when Jeffrey stopped at the gate, Batty drifted away and hid behind a bush. . .Batty peeked out from behind the bush. Jeffrey and her sisters were leaving. She knew she should follow them, but first she wanted to see what was on the other side of that gate (she had been too far away to hear about the man-goring bull). (At this point, Thad began saying , “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” under his breath.) She crept out from behind the bush and over to the gate and put her eye to a knothole.
What she saw was a field full of clover and daisies, with a barn over on the other side. Now, Batty knew all about horses and their needs. There was a horse farm near the Penderwicks’ home in Cameron, where Mr. Penderwick often took Batty to feed carrots to her favorites. . .and while she didn’t see any actual horses through the knothole, she figured it didn’t mean there weren’t any.”
. . .Batty carefully flopped to the ground, and wriggled under the gate. . .Alas, no horses, not even a shy one. . .Oh well, she would pick daisies instead. . .She headed toward the largest clump of daisies and bent to her task. All was at peace while Batty picked flowers and hummed a song about kangaroos. Above, the birds wheeled cheerfully across the sky. Below, the worms slid happily through the soil. In between, the summer breeze softly ruffled the clover and daisies. But soon the peace was disturbed. Across the field from Batty, the barn door swung open as if shoved by something very strong. And here it came, strong, yes, and big and black. The king of the field, the bull, sauntered out into the sunshine and proudly surveyed his realm.”
About this time the sisters realize that Batty is missing. Much frantic searching ensues. It is also at this time that very evident worry is all over Thad’s face, so I say, “Maybe this bull is like Ferdinand.” And Thad says, “Well, there ARE flowers in the field.”
“Jane turned around to look at the field. “Oh, there he is! He must have just come out of the barn.” “Isn’t he big?” said Jeffrey. “Huge!”. . .and then Jane started to scream.
Batty was watching a purple-and-orange bug when Jane screamed. . .Batty recognized the scream as Jane’s, and as Jane had a habit of screaming, more often than Skye, for example, Batty wasn’t worried. However, she did look up from the bug. A bull is so much larger than a bug that at first Batty didn’t understand what she was seeing. She looked back down at the bug, who had by now safely scuttled up another daisy stem, then looked back up again, hoping the black monster would be gone. Not only was it still there, it had come a step closer. It was only fifteen feet away. “Nice horsie,” said Batty hopefully.
Now, this bull had never actually gored anyone. It was true that once a tourist had sneaked into the field and dropped his expensive camera in front of the bull, who, quite rightly, stepped on it and smashed it to pieces. But that hadn’t been enough of a story for anyone. The first person who told it added a part about the bull scratching the tourist’s leg, and the second person who told it turned the scratch into a gouge and so on, until by the time Cagney repeated the story to Jeffrey, the poor tourist had a gaping stomach wound. When Jeffrey told Jane, he hadn’t exaggerated all that much, just changing one doctor to three.
And here my sweet, sensitive son, in an effort to ease his own fears and to make sure the bull was not completely maligned himself says, “SO he isn’t really a MEAN bull, he just doesn’t like photography.”
I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and then I laughed some more. Just the thought of a bull hating–NOT a photographer, mind you, but the entire FIELD of photography was too much for me. And if you want to find out what happens to Batty (in an effort to ease MY conscience about typing so much of this book into the computer), you will have to read the book. I promise you will love it.