Co-Authors and Sequels: Penderwicks 5 and a Zombie in a Chicken Suit
BOB and PENDERWICKS AT LAST share this post because they each require a look at the Newbery Terms and Criteria. These are clear in the way they apply to BOB…and a little trickier with PENDERWICKS. Also, both received two October nominations from Heavy Medal readers. And they both have chickens that must be reckoned with.
The Newbery Terms and Criteria clearly state that the award “may include co-authors.” If my count is correct, it’s happened with Honor books five times in the past: twice with siblings (1975, 1931) and three times with a married couple (1954, 1952, 1939). In the case of BOB, it’s two established authors getting together. In their interview with Horn Book, the co-authors reveal that it was Rebecca Stead who wrote the Livy chapters, while Wendy Mass did the Bob ones.
The alternating chapters work well. The Bob bits are very funny, especially in the beginning. It’s the Livy chapters that mostly develop the mystery, as she tries to figure out where Bob is from and why he’s there. So the two-author element really does make sense for the kind of book it is. Of course single authors use multiple points of view often, but the co-authoring here is clearly not just a novelty or gimmick.
The focus of the book shifts steadily. There’s the mystery, but also the overall tone moves from quirky and funny to explore deeper elements of family, friendship, and community. And we eventually learn that Bob’s story is tied to the seemingly unrelated story of the drought. I’m not sure all of that works seamlessly. Danny’s role is a little confusing…maybe if we had learned a little more about him? But his actions did make sense within the plot.
It’s a fantasy with elements that are distinct and original…but also easy to follow if you’re eight or nine and maybe haven’t read fantasies more complex than The Kingdom of Wrenly or Princess in Black. This would make a great read aloud. A good discussion book. Some strong potential child appeal. Does it have a shot at the first shared Newbery in 44 years?
Since it’s the fifth book in the series, it’s worth going back to the Terms and Criteria to remind us what they say about sequels. The answer is: nothing directly. The committee is to “consider only the books eligible for the award” and “not to consider the entire body of the work by an author.” The most obvious interpretation of this is: don’t give PENDERWICKS AT LAST a medal because you thought PENDERWICKS should have won. There’s no direct reference to sequels or series, but it seems fair to also say: don’t give PENDERWICKS AT LAST a medal if you have to have read other books in the series in order to appreciate its distinguished elements. What it clearly doesn’t say, at least in my interpretation, is that the book must stand on its own, or that the reading experience must be the same whether or not the reader has read previous books. I tend to think of it as: does it work for both types of readers?
I read the first and third books of this series, but it’s been a while. I struggled in the beginning to keep track of characters, but that seems fine: it’s that kind of book, with a large eclectic group of characters who pop in and out. We gradually get to know most of them a little better, scene by scene. When events from the previous books are mentioned, it’s usually through Lydia, who didn’t experience them, so readers learn about them through her, which makes us feel less left out.
We get to know Lydia, the main character, pretty quickly, and the others revolve around her. Though some readers will have met Mrs. Tifton and Jeffrey and Lydia’s older siblings, they’re so efficiently drawn here that we feel like we know them right away. A supporting character like Wesley appears briefly, but we learn a lot about him, and the things we learn are specific enough (best dog ever; motorcycle; probably still loves Batty) that he seems real and distinct.
The writing style is highly engaging. She just has such fun ways of putting things. I don’t think I laughed much as I read this, but I smiled often.
“[Jane] couldn’t let the threat of rain go unchallenged.
“The long range forecast is good,” said Jane.
“Perhaps.” Mrs. Tifton looked capable of summoning thunderstorms for Rosalind’s wedding.
And Jane looked capable of bopping their guest on the head.” (134-135)
“She made me a porcupine costume for a school play, and she made Jack a cricket costume. That wasn’t for a play. He just wanted to be a cricket.” (146)
She pushed herself to run her fastest and encouraged Alice to the the same. And both girls shrieked as they ran – Alice’s shrieks were superb – imploring Wesley not to leave until they reached him. (192)
That “Alice’s shrieks were superb”…somehow that’s just perfect. The characterizations and the consistently excellent language stand out for me. While so many individual scenes are effective, though, I’m not sure the whole thing holds together as strongly as it might. There’s not much plot tension, and some elements, like Lydia’s fear of ghosts, for example, feel inserted to keep things going forward. It’s possible that the double wedding and the hints about a Jefferey-Batty relationship might be more engaging to those who have read the whole series. But even then, it’s the plot that makes me most hesitant about this in Newbery terms…though I’ll definitely recommend it to readers and I’m now convinced that I really should go back and read #2 and #4.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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