by Elizabeth Enright
(first book in the Melendy Quartet series)
Henry Holt and Company, 1941
177 pp., 8 chapters
Interests: family, siblings, art, music
Next: the other 3 Melendy books are The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two: a Melendy Maze
Also by this author: Thimble Summer, Gone-Away Lake
The Melendy’s are a lively bunch: Mona wants to be an actress, Rush is a talented pianist, Randy loves to dance and paint, and little Oliver would like nothing more than to be a fireman. They live in a rather run-down house in New York, presided over by their beloved nanny and widower father. The four Melendy children feel severely hampered by their small allowances, and don’t know what to do with their leisurely Saturdays. The solution is to form the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.) and pool their allowances. Every week one of them receives the grand total and can go out and spend it on any adventurous purpose they choose. Each chapter recounts one of the children’s excursions in the city, as well as the general mishaps and windfalls that befall their happy clan.
The Melendy family is one of those impossibly arty, well-read and precocious gangs of wise-cracking siblings that commonly populate children’s literature. That said, these four are still charming and engaging, even without magic to enliven their exploits. (Sibling posses like this usually get to enjoy magical adventures, à la E. Nesbit.) There is a fair amount of teasing but the siblings are generally kind and generous to each other.
This is a book about independence, and the heady thrill of going somewhere all by yourself. Randy visits an art gallery to lose herself in the paintings, but runs into an elderly friend of the family and ends up hearing a really fantastic story about her past. Rush goes to a Wagnerian opera and then makes a happy discovery on his way home. Mona has a rather indulgent whim, which she later regrets, a little, but is also inspired by her hairdresser’s life story. And six-year-old Oliver, against all odds, and rules, sneaks out for perhaps the biggest adventure of all. Other events include a fire, a dunking in Central Park, a close escape in the night from a furnace leaking coal gas, an unexpected act of generosity from a rich relation and a trip to the country.
This book is also about appreciating the experiences and stories of others, and about the fascination and allure of art, music and theatre. Children may be inspired by the characters’ passion for and dedication to the arts. The story is set another era, certainly, a more innocent time in the Big Apple, but the vivid details keep it accessible to modern audiences. And the thrill of going out in a big city with a little extra money in your pocket and no chaperone is palpable.
This much-loved series is not so well-known these days – I had never heard of it until it popped up as a ‘recommend’ for me on Goodreads.com. A little old-fashioned, but in a good way, this is a thoughtful and warm account of a unique and vibrant family.