Penrod Schofield was neither overwhelmingly bad nor the complete little gentleman. He was an ordinary twelve-year-old boy growing up in early twentieth-century America: mischievous, adventurous, and irreverent. In the Penrod stories, Tarkington created realistic boys' stories not unlike the adventures of Tom Sawyer. With his friends and fellow gang members--Sam, Herman, and Verman--and his long-suffering dog, Duke, Penrod romps through adventures and misadventures. He endures the embarrassment of school plays and dance classes, escaping when he can to his secret hideaway to write gory adventure stories. With the help of the gang, Penrod stages his own theatrical featuring Duke (the Indian Dog) and the Michigan trained rats. His escapades have delighted generations of readers.
In Penrod and Sam, the imaginative adventures of Tarkington's ten-year-old Penrod Schofield continue. Penrod's sidekick is Samuel Williams, and together they improvise, causing general mischief and disorder wherever they go. In picaresque fashion, a fencing battle takes them all through the neighborhood; they narrowly escape serious injury while making boastful demonstrations with a loaded gun; they indulge in dubious "'nishiation" practices for their secret society; they steal food for the starving horse concealed in the Schofields' empty stable; they attempt to fish a cat out of cistern using a pair of trousers; and they cause general chaos at Miss Amy Rennsdale's dance. This is a delighfully nostalgic look at Tarkington's turn-of-the-century Indiana.
I read Penrod and Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington both in a matter of a few weeks to Chantry (12) and Destini (15). From the first chapter they were totally engrossed into these stories that kept begging for more one moment and trying to plug their ears the next moment since Penrod's escapades can be quite, umm, shall I say interesting at times.
These are books are definitely a product of their time and like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer they do include thoughts and words used concerning African-Americans at that time. Don't let that put you off, though. Outside of changing a word here or there I read the book as written, because Tarkington does an excellent job of showing that this wasn't an issue with the boys in his book even if it is a little jarring for today's day and age. I also feel that these are more appropriate and will be appreciated by older kids about 11 and up.
I don't think my kids will ever forget these stories. We had many evenings where we laughed and laughed at Penrod's exploits (and let me tell you it is hard to read-aloud and laugh at the same time!). Tarkington shares about a life that unfortunately doesn't exist anymore, but kids can still read his books and have a glimpse and experience this wonderful piece of the past. I highly recommend Penrod and Penrod and Sam!
On a side note: While reading Penrod, the first book in the series, my kids noticed a commented on how Penrod reminded them of the character, Wesley, in the films On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. After a quick Google search I discovered that Wesley was based on the character of Penrod. The main focus of the films are on Marjorie, the sister, but the character of Wesley does get his fair share of Penrod moments. I found this clip on YouTube and though this incident doesn't happen in the book it does it does show the spirit of Penrod.
Also, check out my Wednesdays with Words where I share some excerpts from Penrod and Penrod and Sam:
Penrod - Part 1
Penrod - Part 2
Penrod - Part 3
Penrod & Sam - Part 1
Penrod & Sam - Part 2
See what others are reading aloud over at Hope is the Word.