Jeanne Birdsall: How Not to End a Series

photo: W. Diehl

Jeanne Birdsall's middle-grade novels about the Penderwick family have collected many honors, including the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and have been translated into 30 languages. The final book in the series, The Penderwicks at Last (Knopf), is available now.

A bookseller once told me about a customer searching for the newest Penderwick book. "It's called Die Penderwicks," the girl insisted. She'd found it on the Internet, which meant it had to exist. The bookseller gamely went along, until together they discovered that, yes, there was indeed a book with that title, but it wasn't about dead Penderwicks. It was the German edition of the first book--in German, die means "the."

I've often wondered what the girl thought the book would be about, and why she'd be willing to read it, unless she was an Agatha Christie fan and thought I was leaning that way, too. Which might be fun. I'd write Die, Penderwicks, Die!, and include a detective who was less Poirot and more Miss Marple--Churchie, the kindly Arundel housekeeper, would be perfect for the role.

I never did, and now it's too late. The saga is over, the curtain down, without even one murder detective making an appearance. Do I regret it? No. There was no one I was willing to kill off. Do I regret being finished with the Penderwick family? No. They're still alive in my imagination, just as they've always been.

What I do regret, though--and I wish my high school teacher were still alive to hear this--is putting aside my Latin reference books, the volumes I used for Mr. Penderwick's lapses into the ancient tongue. But there are always consolations: the book I'm now writing lets me learn bits of Scottish Gaelic. I have no idea what I'm doing, and am continually confused, but that's the fun, yes? Thà!*

*Scottish Gaelic has no one word that means "yes." While I think this should be Thà, I'm not sure. Anyone who knows Scottish Gaelic, forgive me. --Jeanne Birdsall

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