A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JULY 14:

  • Happy birthday Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) and Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
  • It’s the birth date of Peggy Parish (1927-1988), the Amelia Bedelia series.
  • Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was born on this day. Read This Land was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie by Elizabeth Partridge.
  • In 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care is published. Read Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee, Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson, and Princess Baby by Karen Katz.
  • Happy Bastille Day to our French friends. Read The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.

July has been designated Make a Difference to Children month. All involved with children’s books celebrate this cause year round. Nothing can make more of a difference than the right book for the right child at the right time.  I’m going to look at two novels this month, one classic and one contemporary, that that can change a child’s life.

In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, both movie critic Roger Ebert and Newbery winner Linda Sue Park have written about Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays as the book that most influenced their lives. The niece of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Enright studied dance with Martha Graham and illustration at the Art Students League of New York and Parsons The New School for Design. The multitalented Enright discovered she actually liked writing books more than she like illustrating them. In 1939 when she won the Newbery Award for Thimble Summer, she became one of the youngest writers to receive the honor. She is remembered today not for that Newbery but for the series of books called the Melendy Quartet, which begins with The Saturdays.

The four Melendy children—Mona, Rush, Miranda, and Oliver—live with their widowed father and a housekeeper in a New York City brownstone. Quite inventive, the group decides to pool their allowance money. That way one Saturday every month, each of them can do something quite unusual and special. Although the children must practice economy, they can enjoy New York in all its opulence. Randy goes to the art museum; Rush attends the opera; Oliver experiences the circus; Mona goes to the hairdresser. Enright excels at telling details in her work. For instance, when she describes Randy’s tea at the hotel she writes, the petit fours have “frilled paper collars…with silver peppermint buttons on top.” Now, who wouldn’t want to have one of those? One of their adventures ultimately leads to a wealthy patron asking them to spend the summer at a lighthouse she just happens to own. A wonderful blend of realism and fantasy, The Saturdays and its sequels feature four protagonists that children want either to be or have as friends. As Enright herself wrote, the books have been crafted out of “wishes and memory and fancy.”

The Melendy Quartet taught film critic Roger Ebert that stories could be wonderful; and many who have encountered these books over the years agree. The series was recently given attractive new covers for the paperback editions. So if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, pick up these books—or any of the others that you favor—to share with them this summer.

Here’s a passage from The Saturdays:

“Listen, Rush. Each of us (except Oliver, of course) gets fifty cents allowance every Saturday. Now. You want to go to Carnegie Hall and hear some music. Mona wants to go to a play. I want to see those French pictures Father was talking about. Every single one of those things costs more than fifty cents. Now what I was thinking was this. We’re all old enough to be allowed to go out ourselves—except Oliver—if we promise to be careful and not get run over or talk to people or anything. So why don’t we put all our allowances together once a week and let one of us spend them? I mean, for instance, Mona would get a dollar and a half next Saturday and she could go to a play. Then the next week you’d get it, and the week after that it would be my turn. See?”

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Originally posted July 14, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Family, New York
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Saturdays
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COMMENTS

  1. Jory Hearst says:

    These books are such fun! I wish I had gotten to read them as a child, but I’m happy to have read them as an adult. I had no idea she was Frank Lloyd Wright’s niece, either. I always recommend this book to lovers of The Penderwicks.

  2. Anita says:

    Yes, they are perfect for Penderwicks fans. I’ll be looking at those books in August.

  3. suzi w. says:

    Oh Glee! I first discovered “The Saturdays” in a set of books my grandparents had purchased for me, a red set of books that were divided by the kind of adventures found therein. I recently found that my parents got rid of them and was appalled.

    Randy’s trip to the museum was anthologized as a story and imagine my delight when I found that story in a book I’d taken home from the library!! How I loved that quartet. I often pass by them at work and smile. I haven’t read them since I was probably ten or so. Perhaps it is time for a re-read.

    Anita, when you write about books I got from my school library, that room comes back to me in waves of memories. Thank you.

  4. G.Perry says:

    The opening of this review makes my DNA break out in a tap dance. It’s better than that, it’s perfect.

    Books that can change the lives of children. I didn’t know this about children’s books for a long time, partially because I didn’t have children’s book for the most part, as a child. Now that I am way grown up, I decided to do something about that. It has taken time for this idea of the power of these books, to settle in on me, but just yesterday, I was in a book store and and headed straight for the children’s department. As I was leaving the store, I thought to myself, “Children’s books are so much more interesting and fun than all the other stuff in this place.” and I do read.

    I’m just finishing a new undiscovered treasure (thanks to Anita) The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and now I read about The Saturdays. Another great unknown, for me. That sound you’ll hear shortly is the door closing because I’ll be out of here to get hands on The Saturdays book.

    By the way, in the “a Few Other Events Department, a friend of mine was a producer of the PBS special “Woodie Guthrie. ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ Great essay on Guthrie. Githrie’s family loves it.

  5. Erica S. says:

    I just purchased a set of the Melendy Quartet books for my school library – I can’t wait to read them myself! Fascinating author info, and what a lovely intro to today’s entry. I know books made (and continue to make) all the difference in my life and I feel so lucky to get to pass that on to others. I agree with G. Perry – children’s books are so much more interesting and fun. I’m so glad this blog celebrates that!

  6. Anita, I wanted to leave a comment earlier in the day, but I didn’t.

    Fate.

    Had I left a comment earlier, I probably wouldn’t see G.Perry’s fab words. “It’s better than that, it’s perfect.”

    It is – this is a 10-star review Anita and I enjoyed all the comments equally. 10-star stuff.

    G.Perry thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for children’s books with all of us! Exciting!

    The Melendy Quartet (and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) will soon grace the shelves in our home.

    Lovely Jubbly !

    Read Aloud Dad

  7. Lisa B.Harvey says:

    “The Saturdays” sound delightful, I am already looking forward to purchasing it for my great niece (she is only 14 months old now)

    I am also curious to check out Tim Wadham’s “The Queen of France”, I am fascinated with the French Revolution.
    It will be interesting to see how an author depicts this piece of history for children.

    Happy Bastille Day, tout le monde!

  8. How glad am I that a wonderful staff person at the now defunct All For Kids bookstore in Seattle recommended this delightful series as read alouds for my then preschool aged daughter? I missed these growing up, but certainly have delighted in them now, and recommend them or gift them to many I know. They certainly make me want to be ten again! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments. Anita

  10. Tobin says:

    These are wonderful books! I recommend THE SATURDAYS to people who are trying to write comic dialogue. Each character is so firmly, sharply, and warmly drawn — it’s a pleasure to be in their company.

    Thank you for highlighting them!

    mta

  11. SueBeth says:

    Just listened to your uplifting and informational talk at MAZZA yesterday where your blog was mentioned. So…thought I would take a look and know that I will now be a regular follower. The Saturdays will be added to my list to get and read. Thanks.

  12. hemp says:

    What a treat to see that at last some astute editor has had the savvy to bring it back into print so modern audiences can enjoy it–and in a durable hardcover at that. This is a perfect read-aloud for families in part perhaps because of the age-spread of the four children preschoolers will envy six-year-old Oliver his lone excursion to the circus young teens will identify with 13-year-old Monas stirrings of adolescent rebellion as exemplified by her decision to have her long butter-colored braids cut off and middlers will like 10-year-old Randys creation of the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club and the unique situations that befall her like befriending the formidable and exotic Misses Oliphant or tumbling out of a rowboat on Central Park Lake .

  13. G. Perry says:

    If it’s possible, I love these books more than last year.

    Every time I see this cover, I say “Thank you Anita!” because I never knew about this treasure until she told me about it.

    In my reader’s heart of hearts, I think of books like this along side Goodbye Mister Chips, Our Town, The Land Remembers, Miss Rumphius, The Library, The Gardener, The Journey etc. and I continue to listen to the CDs, and never tire of them.

    What a website!

    Five Stars!

  14. Anita says:

    Gordon: There are many covers that when I see them, they make me smile and remember the joy of reading the book all over again. The Saturdays is one of those books.

  15. Bonny says:

    A dollar and a half to go to a play in New York. That’s a Saturday I’d like!

  16. Patrick says:

    The Saturdays certainly shaped my life. I read it in about 1960 as a 9 year old. My mother is German and my father English. My brother and I would often spend part of our childhood summer holidays in Hanover Germany with my German grandmother. To keep us from getting too bored she would takes us to something called Amerika Haus in the city. I think this was a hangover from the US Occupation at the end of WW2. There were several Amerika Hauses set up in different cities which could be used by US military and civilian personnel – as well as German natives – to provide some home country comfort, culture and connection.

    There was a substantial English language library there and we were able to borrow books. “The Saturdays” was one that I borrowed and it left an indelible mark on me. I had always had a fascination for America and the American way of life and this book seemed to reflect everything I wanted to hear about and know. My love for the US became even more entrenched by this happy encounter – so much so that I took a posting to the States in 1975 and have lived here on and off for the best part of the last 40 years.

    That book was something of a beacon to a small English schoolboy with an appetite for things transatlantic and I have never forgotten about it. Of course it represented only a small and slightly privileged slice of life but it contained much of what I thought was good about this great country.

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