Saturday, February 17, 2007

Forgotten Bookshelf: The Saturdays

by Elizabeth Enright

Henry Holt, 1941, reiss. 2002 $16.95

This is the kind of sweet, old-fashioned family novel that makes you insanely jealous of the characters. Oh, how I want to be them!

The Melendy family has four children – Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver – and in my opinion they have everything that’s good in life. They have a boisterous family with four creative, sophisticated children (aspiring actress Mona quotes Shakespeare, mischievious Rush plays piano, Randy paints, and Oliver . . . um, is six). They make their home in 1940s Manhattan, living in a rambling brownstone with a special kids-only clubhouse on the fourth floor. They have a ridiculously faithful housekeeper/nanny. Best of all, they have the cleverness and friendship necessary to create the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club.

What’s that, you say? One rainy afternoon in the clubhouse, the Melendy kids decide that once a week they will pool together their allowance and take turns allowing one of them to have an adventure all on their own in the city. The Saturdays follows each of them as they take their excursions all over the city – going to art museums, the circus, or to a salon for a manicure.

Why couldn’t my childhood have been like that?

Each outing leads to a surprising conclusion, whether that be discovering a new friend, adopting a lost dog, or simply feeling a little queasy at the end of a busy day.

There’s two things to get excited about with this book: first of all the Melendy kids are beautifully realized, down-to-earth kids. Their characters and conversations are sprinkled with just the right amount of bickering and cooperation to make the family seem ideal without being idealistic. It’s like Little Women with a few boys thrown in to the mix.

The second thing to enjoy here is the setting – 1940s New York – which was purely contemporary at the time of the book’s publication, but which has mellowed and aged into nostalgic perfection for today’s readers. Ah, a time when 50 cents was a generous allowance! When you could rely on friendly traffic cops to direct children through the city! When a family could develop a deep friendship with the furnace man! These are details that might go over some kids’ heads, or create a conversation about the Good Old Days for others.

Together, these elements create a marvelous introduction to the world of Elizabeth Enright; fans of the Cheaper By the Dozen books will feel right at home here. And then might stay a bit longer – there are three Melendy sequels.

Henry Holt reissued this book in 2002, with an odd new book jacket – it makes Mona and Rush look like they are in their mid-twenties – but the original ink drawings are preserved inside. . It’s the kind of book that would make great reading on a Saturday afternoon of your own.


Erin said...

I love Enright's stories.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I love Elizabeth Enright. The Four-Story Mistake and Gone-Away Lake are two of my favorite books of all time. And I agree with you - these kids are real. You want to hang out with them. Fortunately, the books are widely available, and so we still can. Thanks!

zoe p. said...

Charming! Delightful! Whatever!

We're waiting for you to write about the s-word. As in, the Newberry awarded s-word. xoxoxox

ElsKushner said...

This is one of my favorite books ever; I was so happy when it was brought back into print a few years ago.

Unknown said...

I was just describing this book and had to rush off to the computer to google around for the title... google found your blog for me - thanks for remebering this charming story so perfectly, I can't wait to get a copy for my daughter!

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