Elizabeth Enright’s “The Melendy Family Quartet”

by Rebecca Ripperton

July 30, 2019

If you’ve ever read any of J.D. Salinger’s books or stories about the Glass family, you’ll no doubt find many similarities between those characters and the four Melendy children. (One notable distinction, however, is that the Glass children are all older than the Melendys, and are more fully developed and intellectually independent characters as a result.) The Melendy offspring range in age from 6 to 13 and appropriately, these books are ideal for readers 8 through 12. And for anyone looking for their next book to enjoy as a family, this series makes for an especially lively read aloud experience!

About the Melendy Family

The Melendy gang is full of character and charm. The family is composed of four children – Rush, Mona, Randy (short for Miranda), Oliver, and father. Joining them are Cuffy, the Melendy’s housekeeper and surrogate mother, and Willy, the family’s handyman. Mr. Melendy is a professor, who travels regularly to give lectures, and later becomes employed by the government to do confidential work during WWII. Sadly, the children’s mother is deceased and not often referred to.

Mona, age 13, aspires to be an actress, and is known by her family for reciting relevant passages from Shakespeare whenever an opportunity arises. Rush, age 12, is a pianist and zealous composer, and although not formally sanctioned, serves as leader to his three siblings. 10-year old Randy is perhaps the character into whom the reader is offered the most insight, as she is modeled upon author Elizabeth Enright herself. Randy is a dancer, and also loves to paint; of all the children she is perhaps the most imaginative and romantic. Lastly, Oliver, the youngest, is a mere 6 years old, but has a mind and interests of his own. Oliver is fascinated with nature in all its forms, and delights in erasing the distinction between the outside world and the inside of his bedroom (much to Cuffy’s horror and chagrin).

About Elizabeth Enright

Although born in the Midwest, Elizabeth Enright spent her formative years living in New York City. Like Randy, Elizabeth Enright was once an aspiring dancer and is even said to have studied under Martha Graham for a period of time, though dancing never became her career. She received further education from studying at Parsons School of Design and The Art Students League of New York. Both of Elizabeth’s parents were professional illustrators, and she soon followed suit, working both as a children’s book illustrator and author early on. Her focus quickly shifted toward writing, however.

Among the books Enright is most famous for are Gone Away Lake and Thimble Summer. She received the Newbery Medal in 1939 for Thimble Summer, and the distinction of being named author of a Newbery Honor book for Gone Away Lake in 1958. Enright even reviewed children’s books for the New York Times throughout her career! In addition to penning books for younger readers, she is also a noted author of short stories for adults, with numerous stories published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as stories included in six different O. Henry award collections.

Lastly, readers may be interested to learn that Elizabeth Enright is the niece of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Elizabeth’s mother, originally named Maginel Wright, became Maginel Wright Enright after her marriage to Elizabeth’s father, Walter J. Enright. Accordingly, Elizabeth’s full name at birth was Elizabeth Wright Enright. (Not nearly as bad as William Carlos Williams, or Holling Clancy Holling, but close!)

“The Saturdays”

While living in New York City, the premise for “The Saturdays” is born one unusually dull weekend. The children collectively decide to each turn all of their allowance over to one sibling each week, so that instead of having 50 cents (or 10 cents, in Oliver’s case) for the week, each has a whopping $1.60 to spend once a month on a grand adventure. Rush, for example, as an avid pianist and composer, uses his money to go to the opera. Randy spends the afternoon at an art museum, and forms a lifelong friendship with the wonderful Mrs. Oliphant. Even Oliver participates, although on his Saturday, he surreptitiously escapes to the circus by himself and nearly frightens the whole family out of their wits.

This first book serves as a delightful reminder of the magic that Saturdays can bring, especially to schoolchildren. The emphasis here is on engagement with the arts, as well as independent adventure. This book is also interesting in that the Melendy children must each choose their special Saturday activity for themselves, with the understanding that their adventure will be both extraordinary and enriching. In addition to choosing the activity, each is required to undertake the responsibility of figuring out all of the logistics of organizing their adventure like purchasing a ticket or finding transportation. (6-year-old Oliver is the exception here – he was supposed to take Cuffy, but opted instead to go rogue.) Of the three, Mona is the only one who doesn’t spend her money in a satisfactory manner, but that experience was educational for the whole family and no doubt beneficial for Mona.

“The Four-Story Mistake”

In the second book of the series, the Melendy family moves to an unusual home in the countryside near New York, so called “The Four-Story Mistake” because its builders astonishingly forgot to include a fourth floor! The house is an unusual piece of architecture, and although the children are at first sad to leave the city, they soon become enchanted with their new home. The Four-Story Mistake itself has plenty of character, as well as plenty of nooks and crannies for the children to explore. The surrounding land is similarly full of hidden treasures, complete with forests, flowered meadows, rivers, caves, etc., affording the children ample opportunity to play out of doors. In this book, Oliver discovers a secret basement room full of musty marvels, Randy discovers a precious prize of her own, and all of the children together uncover an astonishing mystery about their home, as well as its former occupants. Somehow the Melendys even find themselves the new owners of a pet alligator!

“Then There Were Five”

By this time, the second World War has broken out, and the children are going around from house to house to harvest whatever scrap metal their neighbors might be willing to donate. This exercise introduces the four Melendys to a wide variety of neighbors – some delightful, like the charming old bachelor Mr. Titus whose twin loves are fishing and baking. (Naturally, these interests greatly endear Mr. Titus to Oliver, who soon becomes Mr. Titus’ loyal disciple, and single greatest source of assistance in disposing of the countless cakes that Mr. Titus bakes each week.) The children are also introduced to much more ominous neighbors like the dreadful Oren Meeker, whose young relative Mark bears the brunt of his ire.

By this point, both Mona and Rush, the two eldest children, are working part-time outside of the home, in addition to going to school. Mona plays a recurring character on a radio drama, and Rush gives piano lessons to district schoolchildren. But, the best thing that the children bring home in this book is not the money they gladly contribute to the family coffer, nor the scrap metal for the war, but a wonderful new addition to the family.

“Spiderweb for Two”

The last book, “Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze,” takes place when Rush, Mona, and their adopted brother have all gone away to school. Randy and Oliver are more or less left alone with Cuffy and Willy, as father has been traveling for work more and more frequently. The older children’s absence is sorely felt, and both Oliver and Randy begin to slip into a state of ennui.

But something strange soon begins to happen. An unknown person writing in an unknown hand leaves riddles for Randy and Oliver, leading them on an epic treasure hunt that takes place throughout the remainder of the school year. Each clue leads them to another riddle, and the children work frantically to crack each one as quickly as they can, without giving Cuffy or Willy cause for suspicion. At the end of their journey, Randy and Oliver are greeted with a surprise that neither expected, but that both are overjoyed by.

The Takeaway

In all, this is a light-hearted and whimsical series that young readers have adored for decades. The books are incredibly well penned, with exquisite descriptions of the children’s sensory experiences and stories that are chock-full of adventure and excitement. Even though the Melendy children have lost their mother and several of the books take place with World War II as a backdrop, Enright maintains a sense of levity throughout the series. Although the children volunteer in war relief efforts, Enright’s tone never becomes somber in the way that many other children’s books from that time do. However, because these books are so whimsical and idyllic, the series can be a good one to interleave with more somber or emotionally weighty reads like the Mildred Taylor books.

Share Your Experience!

Did you ever read The Saturdays or any of Elizabeth Enright's other books as a child? What about to your children? If so, what do you remember? Did the Melendy family ever inspire you to go on an independent weekend adventure of your own? 

Please let us know in a comment below!

Purchase “The Melendy Family Quartet Books” at Amazon

The Saturdays
by Elizabeth Enright

The Four-Story Mistake
by Elizabeth Enright

Then There Were Five
by Elizabeth Enright

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Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible

by Lisa Ripperton
​Ju​ly 1​7, 2019

​Hurlbut's Story of the Bible is a revered book in our family. As I recounted in Not Just at Bedtime, my husband read all 168 stories in this book to my younger children when they were 5 and 6, not once, but twice! My son Daniel remembers to this day that he begged his father repeatedly to read another story! ​

I have witnessed the profound effect that hearing these stories at such a tender age has had on my children. The author states in his Preface, "Those who in childhood learn the Story of the Bible are fortunate, for they will never forget it." And that has certainly been true in our case. Daniel was recently elected to the Vestry of our church, having been asked by the rector to stand for election because ​of his outstanding familiarity with all parts of the Bible.

I had often wondered how Hurlbut came to writing The Story of the Bible, so I was delighted to ​come across a copy of the fourth edition published in 1952 at a recent library book sale that contained the following account from his son, Charles C. Hurlbut.

​A son's memory

"One of the earliest recollections of my childhood is sitting with a group of other children, with my father in the center and a huge Bible on the table in front of us. The Bible was unusual, for it had a full-page woodcut on alternate pages. From the Creation to the Last Judgment, it was all there — the greatest picture book that any child could ask for.

My father, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, was a wonderful story-teller; so nothing thrilled us more than to sit on his knees to hear him tell the stories as he turned the pages. Not only his own children, but all their friends flocked to these little gatherings, so that "hearing Bible stories" became a standard diversion in the neighborhood.

The old Bible was completely worn out before the story-telling period was ended, for it extended over two complete generations of children. In the process, by long practice, my father learned the language that holds a child's attention and the way to make a story real to him. When he finally wrote the stories for children beyond the reach of his voice, he merely set down on paper the very words that he had been repeating for half a century to children grouped around his knees."

 Charles C. Hurlbut

Author's background

Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (1843–1930), an American clergyman of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held pastorates in multiple locations in New Jersey. ​In the Preface to Story of the Bible ​he speaks of himself as a Bible student, a Bible teacher and a helper through the press, of many who are instructing the young in the Bible. He says he long felt the need of a Book of Bible Stories, different in some respects from any work that had yet appeared. With this conviction he und​ertook its preparation. In its purpose and plan its distinguishing features are elaborated below, as he expressed them in the Preface.

All the principal stories in order

"The aim has been not merely to make a selection of the most striking and interesting among the stories contained in the Bible, but to tell all the principal stories in their connected order, and in such relation with each other as to form a continuous history. Whoever reads this book will find in it not only "Stories from the Bible," but also the "Story of the Bible" in one narration. He will follow the current of Scripture history and biography."

Independent stories with striking titles

"This Bible Story, though continuous and connected, is arranged in the form of a series of Stories, each independent of all the others and treated separately. Every Story has its title; and an effort has been made to give to each a striking title, one that will arrest the young reader's attention. A child or a parent who might hesitate in undertaking to read through the history in the Bible, may open almost at random and find a Story. Here are one hundred and sixty-eight Stories, each one complete in itself, while together combining to form one narrative. And with each Story is named the place where it may be found in the Bible."

Words carefully chosen with explanations as needed

"Special care has been given to the language of this book. I have endeavored to make it childlike without making it childish. Every word has been carefully chosen and there are few words in these Stories which a child of ten years old will not readily understand. Whenever it has been found necessary to introduce any word outside the realm of childhood, as "altar," "offering," "tabernacle," "synagogue," "centurion," etc., it is carefully explained, not once only, but a number of times, until it becomes familiar. Doctrinal and technical terms have been everywhere excluded, and in place of them plain, familiar words have been given."

Language of the Bible employed

"Inasmuch as the book is designed to lead the young reader to the Bible itself, and not away from it, the language of the Bible, or a language somewhat like that of the Bible, has been employed. For the same reason I have refrained from adding to the Bible record any imaginary scenes or incidents or conversations. I wish every child who hears this book read to feel instinctively that it is the Bible,  and not a fairy-tale, to which he is listening. When he grows older and reads these Stories himself for the first time in the Bible itself, I would not have him feel that he has been misled, or taught that which is not contained in the Word of God. The Bible stories are made plain, but they are not rewritten or changed."

​Doctrinal bias avoided

"In my opinion many books for children containing stories from the Bible are greatly marred by the evident attempt to interject a body of divinity into them, to make them teach doctrines which may be right or may be wrong, but are not stated nor hinted in the Scripture stories. Some excellent works have occupied much space here and there in trying to put into childlike language and to connect with Bible stories the deepest and most mysterious doctrines, which theologians find hard to understand. Others contain many moral reflections and applications which may be useful, but are not contained in the text of the story. I have sought to explain what needs explanation, but to avoid all doctrinal bias, and not to be wise above what is written. Only in a few instances where the New Testament warrants a spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament story has an application been given, and then in the simplest and fewest words. It is my confident hope that all denominations of Christians may feel at home in the pages of this book."

​King James Version used for the most part

"In the management of the material, the paragraphs are short, and according to the modern manner the conversations are generally printed in separate paragraphs. The results of recent knowledge in Bible lands and Bible history are used as far as is suitable in a book for children. Where the Revised Version [American Standard Revision] is a manifest improvement upon the Old Version [King James Version], it has been followed, as bringing the reader a step nearer to the thought of the Biblical writers."

Our recommendation

​We strongly recommend that you include Hurlbut's Story of the Bible at some point in your family's read-aloud time. With the completeness of the narrative and the elevated language, it will serve your children well. We recommend it as a supplement to whatever children's illustrated Bible story books you are using, rather than as a substitute, since the simpler illustrated editions are more inviting to children beginning to read on their own.

Share your experience

​​Have you used Hurlbut's Story of the Bible with your family? What has been your experience? Please share in the comments!

Purchase Book at Amazon

Hurlbut's Story of the Bible
by ​Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

Read Online

​Get Ebook

​Get access to the ebook edition of ​Hurlbut's Story of the Bible by purchasing the Yesterday's Classics Ebook Treasury, Volume 1

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