Monday, March 30, 2009

The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright

19. The Four-Story Mistake - second in the Melendy family series
by Elizabeth Enright
juvenile fiction, 1942
paperback, 174 pages
second reading
finished, 3/26/09

This is the second installment in the story of the Melendy family. The title of the book doesn't refer to their mistake, but rather the name their new house is known as. The original owners hired people to build a four-story house while they went to Europe for two years, and when they returned the house was only three stories (what happens when one doesn't pay attention to the builders). The family's money was greatly depleted and they could only afford to add on a cupola.

The book opens as the four Melendy children are leaving their much beloved home in New York City for a new house in the country. Randy, short for Miranda, is having a particularly hard time. She walks through the house saying goodbye to the old familiar nooks and crannies.

In the long window the scarred shade hung crookedly as it always had; for hundreds and hundreds of nights its gentle flapping had been the last sound she heard before she slept.

She could feel the emptiness of every room like an ache in her bones.

Though I am a grown-up person now, I was swept back through time as I read of her despair. There were a couple times growing up that we drove around looking at other houses, and I had a knot in my stomach fearing I would have to leave my home.

But the children do settle in, even Randy. They have a happy life here, exploring woods and streams and the house itself. They find two secret rooms, and learn about one of the daughters of the original owner. Old friends visit, and they make new ones in the small town. The Four-Story Mistake is what would be called a 'nice book.' Nothing terrible happens. The father is full of love and kindness towards his children, and Cuffy and Willy from The Saturdays move right along with the family. If you love descriptions of interiors, as I do, this book is full of details. They are so well written by the author that I almost felt like I was seeing photographs.

There's a particularly wonderful chapter about the cupola. Mr. Melendy explains how it offers 'a view apiece' to the children.

I believe that each of these windows belongs to one of you in a particular way. This one, the north one, for instance, that looks so far up the valley. It must belong to Oliver because he's always looking ahead: always straining toward tomorrow. The east one is Rush's. The view from it is all moving and changeable: the wind stirs the trees, the water dashes and foams in the brook. And the south one. See how the dark spruce branches beyond the glass make a sort of mirror of the window. That's Mona's: she's at an age where she loves her own reflection. The west window belongs to you, Randy. From it you can look back all day along the road you traveled yesterday.

But sometimes it would be nice if you and Oliver changed windows. In fact, it would be a good thing if all of you exchanged views once in a while.

The United States has entered into the Second World War, and though no one they know is fighting, the children are aware of what is going on. They work hard for the war effort, each in their own ways.

This is really a book about the differences and similarities between children, and how they should be accepted and celebrated. What a great message for readers of all ages. I loved The Four-Story Mistake.


  1. I LOVE this book. I still read it at least once every year and I always get all teary-eyed at the end because the last chapter is just so beautiful (sitting outside in the nighttime darkness, etc.). The next book, And Then There Were Five is amazing, too. Always, I can practically see and feel and smell the summer dust upon the roads as the children travel from house to house looking for metal scrap. All the characters feel so very real! I always feel as though I have traveled back to a summer over 60 years ago. Love the final book, also. I own all of these and as I said, reread them yearly. The perfect summer books and they're treasures indeed! Blessings, Debra

  2. Debra, thank you so much for writing! I have the next two and plan to read them this year. I read them to my daughter when she was young, but that was a long time ago. I'm so happy to be in the Melendy world again. Have you and I ever talked about the Betsy-Tacy books? I'm sure you've read them but if not, you would love them. More here:

    I've thought of joining, and should! I plan to read them all again this year. What fun! I read them when I was little, and then bought them all for my girl. They never pale with time.

  3. I love these books too.

    I remember the children building the dam in the brook and creating their own swimming hole.

    A childhood dream of mine.

    *happy sigh*

  4. Island sparrow, I remember you commenting on The Saturdays. I love finding fellow Melendy fans! I'd still like my own swimming place, whether a pond or a pool but I don't think it's gonna happen. Of course you have the ocean so you're all set. :<)

  5. Hi Nan..oh yes! I've read all the Betsy-Tacy books. I'd only read my favorite one-- Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown--when I was young, then discovered the others as an adult. I've belonged to the Maud-L email group since 2000 and they often reread the books and comment upon them. In fact, did you know I live near where the real Tacy lived as an adult and where she and her husband are buried? I have photos of their house and gravesites if you'd like to see them. I love kids' lit. books and it's always a treat finding others who do, too! :) Blessings, Debra

  6. Debra, I was quite sure you had read the B-T books! That's amazing about living so close. I'd love to see the pics. There's an email address on my profile page now. Thank you for offering.

  7. Here you go, Nan:

    I placed the 'Tacy photos' in a blog after one of the Maud-L ladies came to visit me (she was the second woman from that group who I took on a 'Tacy tour'). I found the address and gravesite information in the Betsy-Tacy Companion (I believe it's called. My copy is upstairs.) Enjoy. Blessings, Debra

  8. Thanks, Debra, I'll be over to see! So nice of you to let me know.

  9. Thanks for the review, Nan. I love this book, too.

  10. Jen, thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm having a lot of fun reading these books again. It's been a long time.

  11. Have just left a comment on the Melendys on an earlier post but have to leave one here as well. I just loved this book, in fact all four books about the Melendy family are my most favourite children's books of all time. the depiction of America to an English child was irrestible and years later when I visited New York and the Met I thought of these wonderful stories.

  12. Elaine, I loved reading your note. Thank you so much for telling me. They are very special books, and I've been pleased with the comments from people who've loved them. Wouldn't Eliz. Enright be thrilled to know we are still reading and talking about these books!


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