The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

I long to live in an Elizabeth Enright book. The childhoods are innocent and filled with games, long sunny summer evenings, a little bit of excitement, and simple pleasures. It’s all very idyllic. Though I like many of her books, the Melendy Family books are my favorites. I have so many fond memories of these books, starting with the fact that all three of them were published in one big fat pink book called the Melendy Family, which I checked out of my school library many many times. I felt like I was getting quite a deal since we were allowed two books per week and by choosing that as one I was really getting to take home four.

The Saturdays is the first book which introduces the characters while they all live in New York City. There’s Rush–a gifted pianist and the second oldest, Mona–the oldest who longs to be an actress and as such is prone to dramatics, Miranda–the tomboy artist, and Oliver–the baby of the family. They live with their adoring father and stern but loving housekeeper, Cuffy. One boring day they come up with a plan to pool their allowances and let each person have the combined total for a special Saturday of his or her own. In this way they can each do something they really want. These Saturdays change their lives.

I first read these books when I was in 4th grade. Since them I have carried with me several vivid images from them that come to me over and over again:

  • Mona getting her nails painted and shocking her family. They don’t know how to remove nail polish! (these books are set in the early 40s.)
  • Mona in the summer looking beautiful wearing an entire strawberry plant in her hair (I thought of this the other day as I looked at one of my strawberry plants which looked very pretty with its white and yellow flowers and new strawberries.)
  • When I weed I think of Oliver, who has the task of weeding the garden and categorizes the weeds by which he hates the most.
  • When I contemplate (but never seem to do) canning my vegetables, I think of Mona and Miranda hot and sweaty and proud as they look at all the tomatoes they just canned, looking like rubies in glass in the sunlight.
  • On a hot summer night Mona, Miranda, and Rush dangling their feet in a cool brook which has bottles of root beer chilling in it. (This corresponds with a picture of said activity. Speaking of pictures, I was thrilled that these books were recently reissued, but the covers are weird. Enright herself illustrates the books and yet, the cover illustration is by someone else and really has nothing to do with the story. Stupid reissue. Note: I tried to find an image online of the original cover to post alongside here, but was unsuccessful. I did see that almost every review of the reissue mentions the “irresistible new cover art”. Irresistible to whom??)
  • Coal Gas. The old fashioned equivalent of carbon monoxide poisoning. Whenever I think of carbon monoxide I think of the whole family almost dying from “coal gas” when the furnace was improperly closed up one night.

The other books in the Melendy Family are The Four-Story Mistake and Then There Were Five. (There’s another book that comes after, but I never counted it as part of those magical first three.)

Note: This is the first of “The Bookshelf” books. For more about the Bookshelf, look at picture above and click on The Bookshelf!

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26 thoughts on “The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

  1. “childhoods are innocent and filled with games, long sunny summer evenings, a little bit of excitement, and simple pleasures”

    Sarah, have you read “Swallows and Amazons”? It has that same feel!

  2. I love the way you make this book sound so idyllic and peaceful and wonderful. Its not my kind of book, but I enjoyed reading about it and imagining the serenity.

  3. The Melendy books are some of my all-time favorites. I’m reading them to my eight-year-old son now, and he loves them as much as I did and do! We’ve just finished the chapter “The Show” in “The Four-Story Mistake”; he jumped up and down and shouted with excitement when Mona found out that she might be able to start her professional acting career now! We love the beautiful descriptions that really capture the time and the places Enright was writing about, especially the feeling of the different seasons as they come and go, and the funny, realistic, way the children talk to each other. I read these books in separately bound copies from my public library as a child, but we’re reading from the fat pink one you mention, which a friend found at a library sale years ago and gave me, because she knew how much I loved the books, and how frustrated I was by only having the Dell/Yearling paperbacks (which even in the 70’s had terrible cover art). The individual books all had Enright’s drawings of the heads of the children and their dog (or dogs, in the third book) down the spine. . . . I wish someone would reissue them!

    (I just found your site when I was Googling around, looking for someone to talk to about the books–it’s lovely; thanks!)

  4. I am so excited you found my site! And lucky you having the big fat pink all in one book. I think it’s wonderful you’re sharing this with your son and that he likes it too. I am hoping to soon put up a page about all my favorite children’s books, as well as a record of my son’s favorite books (he’s only 2, so all picture books for him so far.) Please stop by again!

  5. I am sixty years old and I have reread the Melendy family series every year since I discovered them in grade school. They are timeless in setting and charachter. She perfectly evokes life in New York City in The Saturdays, and life in the country with Four Story Mistake, Then There Were Five and Spideweb for Two. I have often wondered if there is a real place somewhere (Wisconsin? Long Island?) where I could go and actually see the Four Story Mistake and the surrounding countryside. Not only does the place seem real, I feel as though this family is as real as my own.

    I don’t think any of her other children’s books are as perfect or memorable as these.

  6. Finally, I have found other people who treasure the memory of the Melendy family as much as I did as a child! I read and reread all of them, but The Saturdays was definitely my favorite! I’d love to see an Elizabeth Enright biography and to learn more about her!

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  8. I need to know desperately if Elizabeth was religious as to propose a slant on her short story The Signature with has a very confusing theme. Many of the lines in the story seem to show that she was either Mormon or religious in some shape or form, I have looked everywhere on Google and no biography or site gives any information on this. Any help please

  9. I just love the Melendy books and have recently read them to my 7-year-old daughter. She loves them so much that she’s been reading them over and over. What a wonderful series! I also found your site while googling around to find out more about Elizabeth Enright.

    So nice to come across others who love her work. I feel oddly bereft since we finished the series… By the time we got through all four books (several times over) Rush, Mark, Mona, Randy, and Oliver felt like family. I really wanted to know about their adult lives and stay in touch.

  10. This is a comment on your posting from 5/18/2007, “The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright”. I came across this in usual Googling fashion, so I’m sorry if this is a shock. Still, I thought I would add what little I know about Elizabeth Enright.

    Her mother, Maginel Wright Barney, was the youngest sister of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Maginel wrote a book about her mother’s side of the family entitled, _The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses_ (which is still can still be found in print). “The Valley” as family members still call it, was originally settled by the Lloyd Joneses in the 1860s; and was later settled Wright in 1911, when he started his home, Taliesin.

    Elizabeth Enright (or “Bitzy” as she was known) did visit the Valley mentioned in the title of her mother’s book on a variety of occasions. It’s said that she was inspired to write _Thimble Summer_ after spending a summer out here.

    And, as someone noted in one of the replies to your posting, her gravesite is out here, at Unity Chapel (which is within view of Taliesin). Sorry if this is stuff you already know, but I figured I would add it to the mix.

    • Thank you for the info! I had no idea of her connection for Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve been fascinated to find out how many other people really like Elizabeth Enright.

  11. Am older than the person who posted at age 60 in 2007 and love the Melendy’s also. I was looking up the title of The Saturday’s to pass along to a 10 year old cousin. I wanted to be ‘Randy’ and had a ‘crush’ on Rush…… i still would love to meet a ‘swinging senior’ version of him, but then, that darling blond orphan came along in Then There Were Five to give some competition…..he’d be fine also….. By the way, for every ten year old girl or boy, please have them read the original Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet……it is so full of inspiration and love of nature and the healing power of the power of positive thinking that gets passed along …. that is my all time favorite book.. and also, the same author wrote several adult novels with very still pertinent themes… by the way. ..there is an excellent t.v. adaption of the Secret Garden which is authentic, and a terrible fairly recent movie and a dreadful Hallmark version which should be avoided.Hint-Dickon would not have gone to kill or be killed in WWI….and even though Mary and Colin were first cousins, the ‘Misslethwait dynasty was not so great that they would have to get married to preserve it, so don’t fall for the stupid miss guided projection of of the future of the Secret Garden)There may have been a movie version in the 1940’s which could be ok…..thanks for letting me espeak of what has many times been a more real and comfortingly predictable world.

  12. Unfortunately I am older still at 73 but that sad fact can’t dim the pleasure provided by discovering a sight about one of my favorite books of all time. I grew up in New York City so I loved “The Saturdays” most of the three. At first reading I was astounded by the sophisticated and cultured activites chosen by the Melendey children. Give me a couple of extra bucks in those days and I would have bought tickets to see Army vs. Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium or perhaps to watch a Joe Louis fight at the old Garden. Needless to say I was never a gifted pianist, I couldn’t even play a harmonica, so by default my favorite character was Randy whose spirit of adventure I admired. (To tell the truth not one of my male buddies from 164th Street in the Bronx knew which key was which on the piano keyboard.) I approved when her father assigned Randy the window I would have chosen for myself in “The Four Story Mistake”.
    I still believe that if it weren’t for Elizabeth Enright my older and super cosmopolitan sister Susie would never have married a farmer from Wisconsin. She abandoned NYC and has been hip deep in the wilds of Wisconsin ever since.

    • Thank you so much for you comment. How wonderful to hear of someone reading this when it was a modern book. The children were super cultured weren’t they? I loved Rush’s story about seeing the opera, and when Randy goes to the art museum I used to wonder if I would be able to choose such a quiet and thoughtful activity, or if I would have grown bored. I admired her most of all the kids, but in truth when I read this as a child there was something about each of them that I found appealing and wanted to be like.

  13. I am 43 years old and an only child…. as a child living on a farm in deepest darkest Africa the Melendys were my family! When I emigrated from Rhodesia as a 12 year old( now Zimbabwe) to Cape Town ( South Africa) to Tasmania ( Australia) and finally Perth ( Australia) I was only ever allowed to take one box of books. Of course the Elizabeth Enright books were always packed! I am now reading them to my 8 year old and I think she is enjoying them…but at the moment prefers Roald Dahl ( at least she has good taste)
    I just googled Elixabeth Enright and found this website so am delighted…..

  14. Wonderful books, lyrically written. You can see the original covers of the books at Library Thing…I understand your dismay over the re-issue cover illustrations.

  15. I first read the Melendy series back in grade school, about 4th grade or so, and I have never forgotten them. I reread them occasionally (I’m now 53). Besides the beautiful writing and the wonderful descriptions of life in NYC and in the country what appeals to me is the intelligence of the children. Grand opera, museums, and the wealth of references to reading: Mona quoting Shakespeare and pretending she’s Countess Natasha Rostova, for example. I was a gifted child growing up in a school that didn’t have much time or resources to spare for me, but fortunately it did have the Melendy books in the library.

    Do you know whether Enright based the Four Story Mistake on a real house somewhere?

  16. I loved reading through all these memories! Clearly Enright remains a treasure. I am working on a biography of her and have met her two surviving sons. Rob assures me that all of his mother’s characters were based on real people, and that Randy was Enright as a child. So far no one has been able to find the specific Four Story Mistake, but there may be a story about a house in upstate New York behind it. One reader asked about religion, and what others posted is all true. Enright’s maternal family were influential Unitarians. Her father’s family was Catholic, but her father’s experience living among the Hopi had an impact on him. Enright was, as an adult, not practicing any religion, but in the 1950s and 60s began asking a lot of theological questions.

    • Thank you so much for your comments! It continues to delight and amaze me at how many people have bonded over their Enright memories. I love learning from you that the characters were based on real people, especially Randy as Enright herself.

  17. Dear Sarah,
    I had to write! At the beginning of the combined edition of the Melendy books there is a forward by Elizabeth Enright. She answers many questions brought up here. She has been my favorite author since I was a child and I was delighted to find this book as an adult and see the forward. Mrs. Enright says there is no real four story mistake, its a conglomeration of houses she has liked/lived in. She also says she saw the name Melendy and thought it was interesting and saved it for later. She talks of being an only child and her wishes to have this family be her family and how she incorporated herself into the characters. She was going to be a dancer and was a trained artist like her mother. Oliver is based on her youngest son, so sweet! Unfortunately she died young. Who knows how many more wonderful books she could have penned? I’ll try to scan the forward later and post on my blog. The end papers for the new editions show the panorama of the four story mistake and the carriage house. Mrs. Enright drew those- I have only seen them before in the big combined Melendy edition. I was glad to see, even with the horrid cover art they put that magnificent illustration on the new editions.
    -Jaime

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