Interview: Jeanne Birdsall
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Thanks to the folks at Flamingnet for giving me the opportunity to interview Jeanne Birdsall, author of The Penderwicks. I highly recommend this adorable book to all young readers, parents, and teachers who are looking for a heartwarming, family-friendly story. This tale of four sisters has the love of Little Women with the humor and hijinks of Anne of Green Gables. Their widowed father and their dog, Hound, are the supporting players, along with many new friends they make during one memorable summer.
1. What inspired The Penderwicks? Are any of the characters based on any of your friends or siblings?
When I was 10 or so, I learned that Edward Eager wrote his wonderful set of books (Half Magic, Knight's Castle, Magic by the Lake, etc.) partly in tribute to the great E. Nesbit (Five Children and It, The Enchanted Castle, The Adventures of the Treasure Seekers, etc.). Since I loved these authors, I vowed that, when I grew up, I would try to write books that would be tributes to both of them. And though I didn't start writing until I was very grown up (in my 40s), I did go back to Eager and Nesbit for inspiration, with a lot of Louisa May Alcott and some Frances Hodgson Burnett thrown in, plus a bunch of others.
So the origins of the Penderwicks were in the books I loved as a child, but the longer I wrote about my characters, the more they took from my real life. Each of the sisters has a part of me in them, plus parts of my niece and nephew, Kelsey and Jesse, who were growing from babies to children while I was writing the first book. Mr. Penderwick borrows a lot from my husband. And I thought that I made Churchie like me (except for the cooking part-I can't cook at all), but Kelsey says no, which goes to show we never know as much about ourselves as we think we do.
2. I heard that a sequel is in the works. Is this true, and if so, when is it due out? Can you tell us a little more about it?
Yes, I am working on a sequel. We don't have a release date for it yet-I'm still in the rough draft stage-but, unless my brain quits on me, the book should come out within the next few years. (It takes over a year to get from a finished draft to printed books in the store.) Writing the sequel has been very different from writing the first book. I have more self-confidence, for one thing. For another, I already know the main characters so well. Naturally, there are also new secondary characters, but if I told you about them, I'd ruin all my surprises! What I can tell you is this: the book takes place at the Penderwicks' home in Cameron, Massachusetts, and it begins a month or so after they leave Arundel. The girls are back in school, except for Batty, who's still a year away from kindergarten.
3. Some children have a security blanket or a toy they just cannot let go of, no matter what. What made you decide to give Batty a pair of butterfly wings?
I knew that Batty would need some sort of security thing since she came into her little world at such a sad and difficult time. I picked wings because my stepdaughter Amy gave my niece Kelsey a gorgeous pair of monarch butterfly wings when Kelsey was four-and oh, how Kelsey loved those wings!
4. What do you think Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty's chosen professions will be when they grow up?
What an interesting question! Unfortunately, I can't answer it. They're still too young to have completely made up their minds. Jane will be a writer, though, I can promise that.
5. Just a little curious - and I apologize if you've heard it before - the book's subtitle includes a reference to "a Very Interesting Boy," who one assumes is Jeffrey. What about Cagney? Also, poor Hound is left out of the title. I hope he's not jealous!
Aha! Another person with a literal brain. You're absolutely right. Hound (whom I placated with a bone over his omission) plays a much larger role in the book than the two rabbits. And which boy is more interesting? Skye and Jane would answer one way, and Rosalind the other. And then there's a father, and a bull, and . . .
My wonderful editor, Michelle Frey, and I struggled mightily with this subtitle. We discovered that there really was no way to include everyone without making it too ungainly. So, in the end, we stopped worrying about details and chose what we hoped would evoke the mood of the book.
Thanks again to Jeanne, her publicist, and the website.