Friday, January 16, 2015

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

Happy New Year, everyone! One of my resolutions is to be a little more regular in keeping up this blog. Life is so busy these days, but I'm going to try.

This book is the current pick of my elementary-age book club that I've been leading at my library for over a year now (our one-year anniversary was in September). I offer up two choices, and the kids vote for their favorite, and this is the one they picked (over Madelene L'Engle's Meet the Austins, another favorite of mine).

Basically I read the book to the kids (age 9-11), and when the hour is up, I stop reading. If they are enjoying the book, they can check out one from the pile of copies I've placed on hold from around the library system. We don't spend too much time talking about the books the following month - just enough for them to chat about whatever they feel inspired to. I am not one (having taught English) to suck the joy out of books by dissecting them into a tedious compilation of symbols and foreshadowing and theme - it's just a relaxed conversation, if they'd like to have it. At any rate, I read this one to them and, even though it was written in the 40s, I could see that it still captivates after all this time. I remembered enjoying it when I was a child, although I couldn't remember much about it.

The story is about four children, two brothers and two sisters, living in New York City in the 40s. There are a lot of interesting details about life in the 40s - the coal furnace, the war, etc., which the book club children found pretty interesting. The four protagonists range in age from six to thirteen, and the story opens on a rainy Saturday where they just can't find anything interesting to do. One of the sisters comes up with a plan in which each Saturday they pool their allowance money, which doesn't stretch very far on its own, and they take turns using the money to have their own personal adventure - going to a museum, or the theater, or exploring the city.

I could tell that my book club kids were wistfully amazed that these young children were allowed to go off on their own in the middle of New York City (with such warnings as not to talk to strangers, not to get run over, and to talk to a policeman if they lost their way). I remembered feeling the same way reading the book as a child. What fun! Each child decides on his or her Saturday adventure, but they usually end up having a surprise or two along the way, and the adventure turns out to be something they never expected. Enright has a way of painting vivid pictures with her words, something that the book club kids noticed as I read to them, so that some fairly long descriptive passages really held everyone's attention. This is a truly enjoyable classic, and I look forward to rereading the rest of the books in the Melendy Quartet.

Books in the Melendy Quartet: 
1. The Saturdays
2. Four-Story Mistake
3. Then There Were Five
4. Spiderweb for Two

The Saturdays (#1 in the Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright (Henry Hold and Company, 1941)