Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright



The Saturdays - first in the Melendy family series
by Elizabeth Enright
juvenile fiction, 1941
paperback, 168 pages
second reading
finished, 3/1/09





I didn't keep all the books from when my kids were little, but I knew that I would want to read the Melendy family series again someday. Ever since I was little, I have loved family stories. This may come with the territory of being an only child. I used to make up families for myself, complete with names and ages. There are four Melendy children, Mona, Rush, Miranda (Randy), and Oliver. Their ages span from thirteen to six. Their mother is dead; mentioned but never dwelt upon by the children. Their father works a lot, and mostly isn't very present in their lives. The day-to-day attention and care is given by "Cuffy," Evangeline Cuthbert-Stanley, a live-in nanny, housekeeper, cook, and "substitute mother." Another daily presence, though not so important, is Willy Sloper who takes care of the furnace, and other household jobs. They live in a wonderfully described house.

The room in which they were sitting might have been called a playroom, schoolroom or nursery by most people. But to the Melendys it was known as the Office. It was at the very top of the house so that they could make all the noise they wanted to and it had everything such a room should have: a skylight and four windows facing east and north, and a fireplace with a basket-shaped grate. The floor was covered with scarred red linoleum that didn't matter, and the yellow walls were encrusted with hundreds of indispensable objects.

The center of this story is that the children decide to pool their allowances so that one child may have an adventure each Saturday. They form a club and call it, I.S.A.A.C. - the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club. From their choices of activities, we get to know each child. And here is where this reader and mother has to suspend disbelief. Maybe in the very early 1940s a ten-year old girl would choose to spend her day looking at pictures in the art museum, and maybe a twelve-year old boy would choose to go to the opera. Maybe children were less involved with their peers, and more learned then, but my guess is that these children are not usual. Over the years, I've found many children's books to be idealized versions of child life. But that's okay; I still enjoyed their adventures. The mother-me simply couldn't believe that children of these ages (except for the youngest) were allowed to go off wherever they wanted to in New York City, alone and without telling Cuffy or their father or even a sibling where they were going. The litany offered by their father is: don't get run over, if you get lost ask a policeman for help, and don't talk to strangers.

All that said, this is a pleasant, enjoyable look at four interesting, kind, intelligent children going about their special Saturdays. They get to know some very interesting people. There are mentions of the war which is going on in Europe. There are a few 'scary' episodes which create a little fictional tension for the reader. This is the first of four books about the Melendy family, and I plan to read them all as the year goes on.

You may read a bit about the author here. She was the niece of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

20 comments:

  1. This sounds like a good addition to our "Books to read list"
    Thank you!

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  2. It's such a good one for kids (and adults), Val. I've meant to get over to your blog all week, and haven't had a chance. Reading to my kids was just the best!

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  3. These books remain something of a benchmark for me, Nan. I instinctively compare other family stories that I read to the Melendy family books. I think that Enright's gift was in knowing exactly what kids would find fascinating (this is especially true in The Four-Story Mistake). And the characters are fully 3-dimensional, of course.

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  4. Oh, Jen, I've been thinking about you as I read the book! You are so right about them being 3-dimensional. I'd love to 'talk' to you about other family series. The one I've most recently been engaged in (the 1st three for the second time) is the Tillerman series by Cynthia Voigt. The next one up is The Runner, and since I know how Bullet's life ends, I have put off reading it. A few years ago, I read the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor and really loved them. Thank you for writing.

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  5. I've only read the first Tillerman book, Nan. I liked it, but haven't gotten around to reading the others for some reason. Ditto for the books about the Casson family by Hilary McKay. I enjoyed the All of a Kind Family books when I was a kid, but haven't re-read them as an adult, and have only the vaguest of memories. The modern books that I think compare the most closely with the Enright books are the books about the Penderwicks. I also liked, and think that you would like, if you haven't read them, Kerry Madden's Maggie Valley trilogy. Oh, and I thought that the Piper Reed books had some of the same feel as the Enright books, but for a slightly younger audience.

    I think I have to go re-read the Gone-Away Lake books now...

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  6. It sounds very interesting! I'll see if I can find these books - I've read and enjoyed Thimble Summer and Gone-Away Lake. I came to think of Frieda Friedeman's book "The Janitors Girl" where some kids go to different places in NYC every Saturday. But I think this book is more realistic than "The Saturdays".
    Margaretha
    Just saw that you mentioned Cynthia Voigt - it's quite a while I read her books, but I remember them as the kind of books as you get totally absorbed by.

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  7. Jen and Em, what wonderful comments. I love to hear about new books, esp. children's books I've never read. Thank you both. I'm jotting down titles like mad, here. :<)

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  8. We loved that series, and read it aloud to our children. After reading "The Saturdays", our second son, then about 8, wrote his own "novel" called "The Mondays"! The four children were himself and his siblings, of course, but all the chapters were about him!

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  9. Joyce, what a wonderful story! How long was it? What a treasure. Thank you so much for telling me about it.

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  10. What a nice reminder of this author. I read Elizabeth Enright's books from the library when I was a child and as a result badgered my mother to buy peanut butter, which I'd never tasted. Since then, I've collected the whole Melendy series as well as Thimble Summer and the Gone Away Lake books. I love them.

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  11. call me madam, I love that story! Do you still eat peanut butter? :<) I'm looking forward to re-reading the rest of the series. I'm amazed at how often our taste in books is just the same. I must spend more time at your blog clicking those links on the sidebar. I'm quite sure the first thing that amazed me was Francoise Hardy!

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  12. I'm not familiar with this book, but it sounds so very much like the "young reader" book I'm about to finish up today, called The Penderwicks. Jen mentioned it in her comment to you. Have you read it? The entire time I've been reading, I've thought of you and how you'd probably like it.

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  13. Les, I bought the Penderwicks two years ago, and even mentioned it in a blog. I just went back and read it, and my gosh, I said 'in the spirit of Elizabeth Enright!!'

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2007/02/new-books_21.html

    But when I began to read it, I didn't care for it. Isn't that funny? You'd think I would have loved it. I really should try it again, shouldn't I?! I gave it to the library, so it won't be this year, but perhaps next, I will borrow it.

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  14. I am a retired school librarian. I loved the Melendy family when I was a child and wanted to be called Randy, just like Miranda.

    I was pleased that my students liked Elizabeth Enright's books, and the Penderwicks, too! Of course, it's all in the way the books are introduced to them!

    I am so glad to have found your blog. A fellow Gladys Taber enthusiast, too--imagine!

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  15. Clairz, thank you so much for coming by and leaving a note. I'm glad to meet you! I've had so many comments about the Penderwicks that I must try it again. The first time I read just a few pages, and I'll give it a better chance the next time. Thanks again.

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  16. I'm a big Penderwicks fan and always on the hunt for more good kid chapter books.Yippee!

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  17. The Melendy family has been one of my favourite families since childhood. I also loved the Gone-Away Lake books.

    I'm glad to have "discovered" your blog - I just requested Little Heathens from the library and am looking forward to reading it with great anticipation!

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  18. Melanie, another fan of Penderwicks! I must really read it.

    Island Sparrow, I'm so pleased about Little Heathens. Such a wonderful book, with lots of practical details of life long ago. Have you read?? -
    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2007/12/book-reportthem-times-1992.html

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  19. I loved this book when I read it in the 60s, especially when the eldest girl spent her share of the money on gettng a perm and having her nails painted ... I thought that sounded wonderful!

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  20. Thank you, 'anonymous' for stopping by. I love the whole Melendy family!

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