When their dad unexpectedly inherits five thousand pounds, the sisters assume they'll all share; they're horrified when, instead, they're sent to ""Big Grandma"" in England's Lake District while their house is renovated. Stern and forceful, Grandma disapproves of their manners and their pursuits--especially reading. Stranded in her almost book-free house and dragooned into unaccustomed exercise and domestic tasks, the girls read cookbooks and tackle Shakespeare because there's nothing else, and find so many other wholesome activities (natural history, gardening, exploring, a prickly friendship with a neighbor boy) that, when the time comes, they can hardly bear to go home. McKay's dogged little Phoebe, ever-hungry Rachel, and the somewhat older Ruth and Naomi are quirky and splendidly individualized--rambunctious enough to account for their mother's jaundiced view of them but thoroughly charming. The reading-deprivation device is a bit contrived, but makes for some wonderfully funny (and thought-provoking) incidents; and though Grandma, not surprisingly, proves to have a heart of gold and quite a lot of wonderful books hidden away, the remarkable conclusion is anything but treacly. McKay has a real gift for amusing dialogue and descriptions. A delightful debut.