In this review I lamented that it was a shame that Cynthia Rylant did not restrict her Mr. Putter and Tabby book series to three or six well-crafted stories. I am so glad to be able to tell you that that is exactly what she did with this series. Perhaps because of her restraint, this tender and sweet series for little girls is endearing and well organized. The series follows a natural progression through a year’s worth of adventures for the Cobble Street cousins Lily, Tess, and Rose.
In this small series of “Cobble Street Cousins” books, 10-year-old twins Lily and Rosie are living with their Aunt Lucy and their 10-year-old cousin Tess at their Aunt’s pretty house on Cobble Street. Tess’s mother and the twins’ parents are professional ballet dancers who are on a one-year world tour with the dance company. While the dancers are traveling, the cousins move into Aunt Lucy’s attic and spend a year having quintessentially girl adventures in everyday life.
This series has six books. One for each of the four seasons of the year, a fifth book celebrating the girls’ reunion with their parents, and a final book celebrating Aunt Lucy’s wedding. Throughout the books, the 10-year-old girls run a little baking business, befriend a sweet elderly neighbor who gives them sewing lessons, meet a retired senator, set up a little newspaper, plan a talent show, and plan a reunion party. They even do a little matchmaking between their baking business customer, Michael, and their aunt Lucy. All in all, it’s a beautiful window into little girl life.
This tender series is written to be an “early chapter book.” Pitched at readers aged seven through ten, the writing is accessible and enjoyable. Each girl has a distinct personality. One wants to be a poet, one wants to be a Broadway star, and another just wants to be a homemaker. I think that most girls reading these books will find a friend in one or the other of the characters.
Consistent with Cynthia Rylant’s style, the books have an artistic soul, they include a number of pets, and there are worthy characters who are advanced in age. I sincerely appreciate the Mr. Rogers type feel this series has. I think that Rylant’s inclusion of the elderly and the concept of the neighbor are edifying additions, and otherwise absent from a lot of literature in this genre.
I know that some readers are concerned about tween and teen books that feature romance. There is some romance in this series, however I think that it is different than the boy-crazy-type stuff we see in this genre. The girls do some matchmaking between Michael and their aunt Lucy. They tease the couple throughout all six books, drop hints about the probability of marriage, and giggle over the possibilities. But the romance mostly happens off-scene. I completely respect and understand why some families want to avoid any books that might encourage their daughters to obsess over boys. In this situation, however, I think there is a value to having children see this particular kind of romance. The relationship is healthy, it occurs between adults, it happens mostly off-scene, it progresses slowly over a year, and it results in marriage. Essentially, this is an innocent and healthy picture of courtship.
While these books lack some of the charm of the more old-fashioned series (like Betsy Tacy), they have their own merits. And I would argue that they paint a sweet picture of modern girlhood.
This is a series of books which could be purchased as a bundle and given as a birthday present to a young reader in the 7 to 10-year-old age range. The illustration is feminine and flowery. Aunt Lucy is artistic and elegant. The girls have a great deal of confidence and self expression.
In the final book, Michael and Lucy give each girl a charm bracelet with the promise that when the girls visit every summer, the couple will add a new and meaningful charm to their bracelets. I am seriously considering pairing a set of these books with a charm bracelet (something like this) for my daughter as a sweet coming-of-age present.