Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:

Where do you get your ideas?

I take lots from my own childhood—especially names of old friends—and from the lives of the children around me. (My two little granddaughters were a big help with Lydia in The Penderwicks in Spring.) I’ve also borrowed from the books I loved when I was young. For example, the idea of the original four Penderwick sisters came from Little Women, and Batty’s adventure with the bull came from Emily of New Moon (with a hat tip to Ferdinand).

Did you grow up in a big family like the Penderwicks?

It was just me and my sister, who was four years older than me and didn’t like me much. The Penderwicks are more like the family I wish I’d had.

Is Arundel a real place? Is Cameron?

The places in my books—like the people—are a mixture of real and imagined. Arundel has bits and pieces pulled from all over, including a mysterious rundown mansion across the street from my childhood home, the castle in The Enchanted Castle, and the garden in The Secret Garden.

Cameron is loosely based on Amherst, Massachusetts, across the Connecticut River from where I live in Northampton. Here are two things I borrowed directly from Amherst for the books: Wildwood Elementary, where my niece and nephew went to school, and Antonio’s Pizza, which does indeed make the best pizza in the universe.  I’ve also borrowed real places from Northampton, including Sylvester’s, a restaurant with amazing blueberry pancakes, and Broadside Bookshop, my favorite bookstore.

Who is your favorite Penderwick sibling?

I don’t have a favorite. It’s easiest for me to write about Batty, and hardest to write about Rosalind, but that doesn’t mean I like Batty more than Rosalind. It’s sort of like parents with their children—they love each one for different reasons, but not one more than another. Or, at least, that’s how it should be.

Will there be a Penderwick movie?

There are no plans for a movie, and it would take a lot to convince me that the Penderwicks would translate well onto film. At any rate, I won’t even contemplate the possibility until all five books are written.

(Note: I hold the rights to the Penderwick series. For more information, please contact Eleanor Quinnell at

Do you have any pets?

We have a dog and two cats. The cats are Jake and Lucy, and they—along with all the cats I’ve ever had—helped me write about Asimov. Our dog is a Boston Terrier named Cagney, named after Cagney in the Penderwick books, not the other way around. Cagney was not only the model for Hoover in The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, he also helped inspire my picture book, Lucky and Squash.

Are you writing more books about the Penderwicks?

I’m now working on the fifth in the series, which will also be the last.

Do you have any advice for writers?

I’ve never been good at taking advice, so am reluctant to hand it out. But there’s one thing you can’t go wrong with if you want to write. Read. Read, read, read, read, read. Written language is different from oral language, and reading is the best (well, only) way to become proficient in it.