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Posts Tagged ‘Melendys’

This past weekend, I did something I hadn’t done in a long while – took off for a solo adventure (J had flown to Texas for a conference midweek). I’ve been enjoying a delightful email correspondence with Allison, a regular reader of this blog, so I invited myself to her little apartment in Queens, and we spent three lovely days exploring the city together.

Allison is the daughter of a children’s librarian (just one reason we’ve become such fast friends), so she was quick to direct me to various locations in NYC involving classic kids’ books. Needless to say, I relished every one.

On Friday afternoon, amid torrential rain, we made our way to Alice’s Tea Cup for soup, sandwiches, cups of Earl Grey and delectable scones:

(That’s Allison’s pumpkin scone in the foreground, and my chocolate-cranberry scone in the background.)

The next day, I made a pilgrimage to the New York Public Library’s main branch, to visit a few old friends:

Yes. Those are the ORIGINAL Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals – Pooh, Piglet (center), Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga (and Lottie the Otter, a new addition, behind Kanga). And, of course, they are right in the middle of the Hundred Acre Wood:

The exhibit is right in the middle of the children’s room, which has wonderful, colorful New York wall art:

On Sunday morning, I found myself at the Met, to which Claudia and Jamie run away in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s enormous, imposing and grand outside:

And simply gorgeous inside:

I didn’t see nearly everything Claudia and Jamie did, but I wandered through the galleries, gazing at the exhibits and enjoying the general effect of so many beautiful and curious things so close together, for a couple of hours. I’d bought a copy of the book at the Strand the day before, and I read myself back to sixth grade on the bus ride home.

All weekend, as Allison and I walked around Manhattan, we tried to decide where the Melendys would have lived when they had their Saturday adventures in New York. We decided it must have been a lovely, comfortable old brownstone like this:

With flowers in the window boxes, of course. Cuffy, or maybe Mona, would definitely have made sure of that.

On Sunday afternoon, we walked through Central Park, and paused at the lake, where the Melendys went rowing and Randy fell in:

It was a perfect way to end my children’s lit tour. (We didn’t get to go rowing ourselves, but that’s on the list for next time.)

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The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
I’m a sucker for a fun, well-written children’s story – and I loved The Penderwicks, which begins the chronicle of Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty. So I picked up the sequel, and loved it too. From spying on the new neighbors to writing plays about Aztecs to setting their father up on dates, the girls are always thinking up new adventures. The Penderwicks simply don’t believe in dull moments – and there aren’t any.

Seeds, Richard Horan
A fun idea for book and nature lovers – a scavenger hunt for the seeds of trees beloved by famous American authors, or located near their homes. I admire Horan’s passion and tenacity, though I got fed up with his verbose, self-consciously clever writing style.

Picnic, Lightning, Billy Collins
Collins is probably my favorite poet – so this was pure pleasure reading. The best of these poems are also collected in Sailing Alone Around the Room, but it was fun to revisit them. (I also love his collection The Trouble with Poetry.)

The Little Women Letters, Gabrielle Donnelly
I’m a longtime Little Women fan, so I’m a bit protective of Jo March and her sisters. Anyone attempting to piggyback off their story – much less write in Jo’s voice – had better do it right. And Donnelly does – the letters from Jo sound awfully like her. And I loved her modern-day characters – sisters Lulu, Sophie and Emma, who are supposedly Jo March’s great-great-granddaughters. Such a fun, heartwarming, spunky read. Loved it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
I had high hopes for this one – and the writing is beautiful. But I found it hopeless and empty, much like the lemon cake of the title. When it comes to food and magical realism, I think Joanne Harris (Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, etc.) does it better.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
This third Penderwick story is another fun ride – this time to Maine, for an eventful summer vacation. I missed Rosalind, the oldest sister, but loved watching Skye, usually second in command, rise to the occasion as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). Lots of fun beach adventures and a sweet subplot involving a long-lost father and son.

Winona’s Pony Cart, Maud Hart Lovelace
This was the only Deep Valley book I hadn’t yet read – it was a pleasant way to spend my morning commute. I like spunky, sassy Winona (though she is a bit spoiled), and this was a fun trip to a fictional town I love. (Also: it’s always interesting to see Betsy Ray from her friends’ perspective.)

A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff
Lush descriptions of vintage clothes, a little romance (with the wrong guy and then with the right one), and a long-buried World War II secret both heartbreaking and lovely. I quite enjoyed this feel-good story. (And – as always – I love me some British spellings and expressions. Happy sigh.)

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I hadn’t read this in years…until a blog reader reminded me of how much I’d loved it (thanks, Allison!). The story of Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver Melendy, and their Saturday adventures in New York City, is so fun and utterly charming.

The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
This sequel to The Saturdays is equally charming…the Melendys move to the country, into a large, rambling house with a cupola, a cellar and a hidden room (!). And they have more adventures, beautifully written and lovingly detailed.

Then There Were Five, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys continue their adventures, which include meeting a lonely orphan boy named Mark and taking him to their hearts, literally and figuratively. So fun to see each child pursuing his/her interests, from Mona’s radio show to Rush’s piano compositions to Randy’s dances and drawings to Oliver’s fascination with bugs and moths. They are growing up, but not yet too grown up, thank goodness.

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Recently, I’ve been corresponding with a reader (hi Allison!), talking about our recent life transitions (we’ve both made cross-country moves in the last year) and our love for children’s/young adult books. She inspired me to pick up a series I hadn’t read in years but remembered enjoying: the Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright, starting with The Saturdays. Not surprisingly, I’m loving them the second time around. (They’ve been recently reissued, but I found old editions of the first three, with the cheesy cover art and the same font I remember from childhood.)

The main reason I love these books is the warmhearted dynamic between the four children – Mona, Rush, Randy (really Miranda, but nobody calls her that) and Oliver, who are smart and kind and funny and endlessly creative. But this time around, I’m also marveling at the writing. Much of it is quite simple, but occasional sentences just take my breath away – some because they capture so exactly the feelings of childhood, and some because they’re simply beautiful.

For the first kind, I love this passage from The Saturdays:

“But being by yourself, all by yourself, in a big city for the first time is like the first time you find you can ride a bicycle or do the dog paddle. The sense of independence is intoxicating.”

And this one, from The Four-Story Mistake:

“There was always a long streak of purple or green at the corner of her mouth because she couldn’t remember not to chew her paintbrush while she was thinking.”

For the second kind, there are all sorts of images, just slipped in here and there – “half a dozen chairs clustered together like people after church,” snowflakes that “glittered like tinsel,” or this whole sentence: “Each day the sun shone, the birds lingered, though the trees were turning, purely out of habit, and their rose and yellow and rust looked strange and beautiful above the brilliant green grass.” Or this one: “The woods were beautiful and mysterious; but suddenly he was cold; he longed for noise and warmth and light.” Such simple words, put simply together, but in lovely, unexpected ways.

I’ll never stop loving children’s books, nor will I ever apologize for it. (To that end, two of my favorite series – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Mother-Daughter Book Club – have new books coming out this year. So excited!)

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