I picked up The Penderwicks (A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy) by Jeanne Birdsall probably a year ago, on the 4-for-3 table at Borders, and I hadn't gotten around to reading it, likely because I choose fantasy when I read kids' books. But I noticed a sequel in Borders recently, and decided to dig out the first one. What a charming story! Reviews everywhere call it the kind of book you read when you were a child, and it's true. It's very familiar, but updated as well. It reminds me a bit of the Peggy Parish Jed, Liza, and Bill books that I recently reread (starting with Key to the Treasure), but a bit more sophisticated, and solidly in the 9-12 age group. The Penderwicks, Dad (their mother is dead), Rosalind (the oldest), hot-tempered Skye, Jane (a budding writer), Batty (the youngest, at only 4), and Hound, their dog, head to a cottage for their vacation, their usual spot having been taken off the market. The cottage is on the property of Mrs. Tifton, a snooty woman preparing to host a Garden Club competition. She has a lovely son, Jeffrey, and a less-lovely boyfriend who wants to send Jeffrey off to military school as soon as possible. Jeffrey and the girls strike up a friendship, and the result is utterly charming, with a few disasters thrown in. It's a fun summer vacation story, with new friendships, ominous grown-ups, wholesome adventures, and slightly harrowing situations. And lots of humor--perhaps because I was an only child until age 7 I always loved books about siblings and their struggles. Definitely a cute read for kids of all ages!
I somehow missed The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, but came across it by chance. I picked up the first, The Fairy Tale Detectives, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are presumed orphans and shuffled among orphanages and foster homes until a grandmother they had thought dead claims them. It turns out the girls are descendants of the Brothers Grimm, who brought fairy tale creatures (Everafters) to live in safety in Ferryport. When Granny and her companion, Canis, are kidnapped by a giant, the girls must find a way to save them. This starts out pretty dark; Sabrina, the almost-twelve-year-old, plans on running away from Granny's as soon as possible since she can't believe Granny has good intentions. Seven-year-old Daphne warms up to Granny right away, though. The fairy tale characters are fun, and the adventures entertaining. Sabrina and Daphne are engaging kids, and the situation in Ferryport is rich and complex, with some characters supporting the Grimms, while others want their freedom (while they're safe in Ferryport, they also can't leave). I really enjoyed this one, and I'll be getting the others that are out in paperback on amazon's 4-for-3 promotion. A nice combination of mystery and fantasy elements.