1939 Newbery Medal: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright, was published in 1938 by Farrar & Rinehart.

A few hours after nine-year-old Garnet Linden finds a silver thimble in the dried-up riverbed, the rains come and end the long drought on the farm. The rains bring safety for the crops and the livestock, and money for Garnet’s father. Garnet can’t help feeling that the thimble is a magic talisman, for the summer proves to be interesting and exciting in so many different ways. There is the arrival of Eric, an orphan who becomes a member of the linden family; the building of a new barn; and the county fair at which Garnet’s carefully ended pig, Timmy, wins a blue ribbon. Every day brings adventure of some kind to Garnet and her best friend, Citronella. As far as Garnet is concerned, the thimble is responsible for each good thing that happens during this magic summer—her thimble summer.

Rating: 4/5

I don’t think Thimble Summer is quite as strong as Enright’s Melendy Quartet or Gone-Away Lake (which must have had much stronger competition when it was published, as it only received a Newbery Honor and it’s arguably a stronger book than this one), but that’s understandable since this is one of Enright’s first books. It still has all the lovely Enright charm to it—she can make descriptions of one girl’s summer sound more exciting than a book about pirates and stolen treasure.

You can see the shaping here of what Enright really loved to explore in her books—the day-to-day, the small adventures that take place over the course of a day or a summer, the boundless joy of children, their desire for new things battling with their desire to keep things the same. Things never get too dark or too scary in this book, yet there are times when even Enright recognizes the need to express when things are serious. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Garnet goes off to a neighboring city without telling anyone where she’s going, and when she gets back she’s confronted by her neighbor, who gently chides her and reminds her that she has people who care about her and who worry if she disappears, and that what she considered an adventure was not felt that way by other people. It’s delivered in such a way that readers can definitely tell that Garnet did the wrong thing, but it’s done gently and woven well so that the story still keeps its lightheartedness and its joy.

Thimble Summer simply highlights how much better Enright will get in her writing: the good things in this book are amplified and better developed and executed in her later works, the flaws and weaknesses in this book are better reined in or gotten rid of altogether in later books. This is not my favorite Enright book, nor do I think it is her best, but it’s still charming, and so full of joy and life that you can’t help but read it with a smile.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

Garnet saw a small object, half-buried in the sand, and glittering. She knelt down ad dug it out with her finger. It was a silver thimble! How in the world had that ever found its way into the river? She dropped the old shoe, bits of polished glass, and a half dozen clamshells she had collected and ran breathlessly to show Jay.

“It’s solid silver!” she shouted triumphantly, “and I think it must be magic too!”

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2jLHZ8N

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze: Clue Hunt!

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1951 by Henry Holt and I’m still reading the 1997 Puffin version. It is the fourth and last book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright here.


“Nothing is the same for Randy and Oliver after their sister and brothers go away to boarding school. The days stretch on, with nothing to do except think about how much fun they used to have. Then, one morning, a light blue envelope comes in the mail. It’s for Randy and Oliver, and it contains the first clue in what turns out to be the most unexpected mystery ever!”

What I Liked:

Probably my favorite Melendy book, simply because of the clues. I love treasure hunt books! And Randy and Oliver solve them with just the right mix of sheer dumb luck and skill that makes it seem like an actual, real-life hunt (again, I love Enright’s ability to make everything seem quite realistic). Enright also continues to include characters’ stories, which is what helps make her books so good.

One thing I never noticed is that this book was published seven years after the previous Melendy book, which probably means that Then There Were Five was meant to be the last one, but popular demand led Enright to write another. Or it took her seven years to come up with all those riddles (which were quite wonderful, by the way. Not dumbed-down or silly ones, but proper, actual riddles for a clue hunt!).

I also enjoy the fact that Enright is not afraid of aging her characters. Each book has had them getting older (usually by a year or a few months), and this one continues that, although I don’t believe it says how long it’s been, unlike the others (usually she mentions their age or the month so you know how long it’s been; this one she does not). I also like the fact that even the cover illustrations (of the 1997 Puffin versions) show them getting older with each book.

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Mystery, Realistic


Named for a jewel, named for a bird,

Asleep for threescore years and ten,

First find my resting place, and then,

Stepping toward sunrise, find the third

Strange clue that marks the secret way

To rare reward and a fair summer day.

“A summer day!” exclaimed Oliver. “Gosh! Does that mean we’re never going to get to the end of this thing till summer? Why it’s only just begun to be October now!”

“I know,” said Randy slowly. “But I wonder—I think it’s been invented, this game or search or whatever it is, by somebody who understands the way we feel with all the others gone; someone who wants to give us something pleasant to think about instead of just groaning around the house and missing them all the time. I’m glad it’s going to last a long time.”

~Enright 44-45

“Dave! Dave! Can you get me that nest? Please can you? Please? I just have to have it!”

“First tell me why?” demanded Dave, not unreasonably, and Oliver was forced to launch into the same lame explanations that he and Randy had given to Cuffy and Mr. Titus and the others.

“Oh, so that’s why they were so interested in that nest that day—” Dave stopped short.

“Who? Who was interested in it?” Oliver implored, but Dave just shook his head.

“Listen, brother, if it’s a secret I’m not going to spoil it. Here Daphne, you hold Mitch. We’ll have to get up to that thing somehow, and a ladder won’t do; there’s nothing to lean it against; the branch stretches out from the trunk too far. We’ll try a table.”

~Enright 100

Overall Review:

Spiderweb for Two is my favorite Melendy book in the quartet. It’s quite different from the others, but not so much as to seem completely distant from the rest of the series. It’s still got the charm, the humor, and the inner stories that make Enright’s style so distinctive and which keeps me coming back to these books over and over. Seriously, I’ve read them maybe six or seven times each.

You can buy this book here: Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze

Then There Were Five: Possibly Enright’s Darkest Work

Then There Were Five is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in1944 by Henry Holt; as usual, I read the 1997 Puffin edition. It is the third book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright here.


“Mark Herron is an orphan, forced to work on his brutal guardian’s farm. He’s had no hope and no friends—until he meets the Melendys. Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver become almost like family to him, but even they can’t change Mark’s life. Or can they?”

What I Liked:

This is probably the darkest of Enright’s Melendy series due to Mark’s situation, but it still has tons of happy feelings, lightheartedness, and fun amid the seriousness. The dark material is dealt with quite well and carefully for a children’s book, and things that may be treated with more detail in YA and adult novels are glossed over or implied rather than directly stated. It’s a good way to show different family situations without either ruining or romanticizing the Melendy family dynamic.

My favorite part of the book is Mona and Randy’s canning adventure and the fair the children (the children! Not the adults) put on. As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading about children actively doing creative things like fairs and plays and so on. I also love, once again, the adventures and the exploring that goes on. These children could roam the woods and go to strangers’ houses by themselves. Nowadays, you can’t even send your nine-year-old to the playground without getting arrested.

What I Didn’t Like:

The book seems to go on forever when you hit the last three chapters or so. I found myself wondering when it was going to end. The last chapter could have probably been completely cut without much detriment, especially since the previous two chapters already explored the theme of the last (Mark’s obtaining a family).

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

Warnings: A small amount of dark themes implied (child abuse, mostly, but Orrin’s death is also fairly dark).


“Hello,” said Randy. It came out in a sort of a croak; she couldn’t tell whether he was going to be fierce or friendly, but risked the greeting anyhow.

“H’lo,” said the boy, and to her astonishment and gratification smiled a shy, radiant smile.

“Your father’s just chased us off your place,” Rush said, as Lorna Doone lowered her head to the roadside weeds. “We wondered if he had any scrap for us, but he didn’t seem to feel like giving any.”

“Aw, he’s means as a rattlesnake,” said the boy carelessly, and seeing the shocked faces bedore him, added, “He’s not my father. He’s m’ second cousin. Took me to live with him when I was orphaned.”

~Enright 38

In the midst of all this, of course, Rush, Mark, Oliver and Willy came in, hungry for lunch. Observing the sea of glass and spilt tomatoes Rush assumed a murderous leer, and prowled to and fro growling, “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!” Then he stood up straight, frowned importantly, and turned to Willy Sloper. “Call Scotland Yard at once, Carstairs. Something extremely fishy has been going on here. A clear case of vegetable homicide!”

“Oh, Rush, it can’t be noon,” wailed Mona. ‘We’ve only started. We haven’t even thought about lunch.”

“They could have some cornflakes,” said Randy helpfully. “And there are some cold noodles in the icebox.”

“Cornflakes. Cold noodles,” commented Rush. Then he crouched again. “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!”

~Enright 149

Overall Review:

Then There Were Five is probably my least favorite Melendy book, which is to say that I like it the least of the four. It drags a little bit at the end, but the rest of it is the same old Melendy shenanigans. The additional, slightly dark material that Enright introduces also makes it a much more mature novel than the others.

You can buy this book here: Then There Were Five (Melendy Quartet)

The Four-Story Mistake: Old Country House! Secret Room! Exploring!

The Four-Story Mistake is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1942 by Henry Holt; I read the 1997 Puffin version. It is the second book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright and her books here.


“It’s a house full of secrets—and it’s all theirs!

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver Melendy have lived in the city their whole lives. How can they move to a house in the country that they’ve never seen? But what their father says goes, and soon they’re on a train to the Four-Story Mistake—an old almost-mansion full of places to hide, old stories to uncover, and more adventures than the Melendys could have imagined!”

What I Liked:

You can probably tell from my review of Return to Gone-Away how much I love old country houses, and although the Four-Story Mistake isn’t quite as old, it’s still a house with secrets, and I loved discovering them with the Melendys. I especially loved all the kids’ exclamations of disgust at how dumb they are as they discover the secret room because what I love most about Enright is her realistic capturing of children and their dialogue. I feel as if the Melendys could have actually existed, as if they were actually real children who grew up during the 40s.

I loved the fact that the children played outdoors all the time (no television!), that they explored and biked and swam all day, every day. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Enright’s books are deliciously free of PC, angst and dark material that so many children’s and YA books tend to have nowadays. Reading these books is like a refreshing spring breeze blowing across your face, something to delight and revel in. I wish more books were written about children making their own fun, hearing stories, discovering secret treasures, making plays and shows, working to help with the war effort and with the family finances, being active participants in the world, rather than being passive participants.

I’ve always thought this was my least favorite book in the quartet, but it’s really not. I love this book a lot; it’s a nice departure from the formula of The Saturdays while still keeping that old Enright charm and humor.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing, but that shouldn’t surprise you.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+ (or younger!)

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s


“Why, look at the walls!” cried Oliver. “There’s pictures and writing all over them!”

It was true. From the ceiling to the floor the sloping walls were covered with pages of pictures and stories cut out of old papers and magazines. They were yellowish brown with age, and here and there were dark stains where the rain had leaked in, but on the whole they were remarkably well preserved, for at the tops of some of the pages there were dates. April 17, 1881, said one of them. September 19, 1879, said another.

~Enright 28

“You want to catch your death? Pile into bed now, it’s almost nine.”

Randy threw her arms around Cuffy’s neck. “Oh, I love Christmas Eve!” she cried. “Even better than Christmas I love it. Because everything’s just about to happen!”

“Influenza’s about to happen if you don’t get into bed with them windows open,” growled Cuffy, giving her a kiss and a shove both at once.

~Enright 113

Overall Review:

I’m really only repeating myself at this point, since I’ve reviewed four Enright books already. She’s amazing and her books are amazing. The Four-Story Mistake is about children having fun in their new house in the country, before things like television and technology kept children inside. Not only do they have fun, but they also each do their own part to help out around the house, through chores and jobs, etc. I love the Melendy family, what else can I say?

You can buy this book here: The Four-Story Mistake (Melendy Quartet)

The Saturdays: Hello, My Dear Old Friend

The Saturdays is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1941 by Henry Holt; the one I read is the 1997 Puffin edition. This is the first book in Enright’s Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright and her books here.


“Imagine if you had one day a week that was all your own, with enough money to do whatever you wanted…

The four Melendys do. In fact, they’ve started their own club, I.S.A.A.C. (the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club). They’ll pool their allowances, and each Saturday one of them will explore New York City—where there are enough things to do for a lifetime of adventures. And no one knows how to have adventures like Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver Melendy!”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

As much as I love the Gone-Away books, I love this series even more. I’ve read it so many times that I know the lines, the scenes, etc. The Melendy family is like an old friend that I go to visit every once in a while, and enjoy spending time with them every time.

This book is funny, much funnier (in my opinion) than Gone-Away, but maybe that’s because there’s simply more people in it (or seems to be more people, anyway). The Melendy children all have their own quirks, their own interests and dislikes, and that makes them seem much more like real people. The dialogue is also very realistic and seems more like things that children will actually say and think and do.

I absolutely love the oldies feel to it (this is set in the WWII era, and was published during the same time) and the absence of PC. I love that the kids can walk in New York City by themselves, that policemen are viewed in a positive light (rather than the often negative, manipulative, or incompetent light found in a lot of children’s and YA books today), and the old expressions, technology, etc. I love the family’s outrage at Mona’s painted nails. I love the stories, the shenanigans, the small bits of drama. I simply love everything about this book (and the series, for that matter).

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

Warnings: None.


“If you do get lost,” she continued, “you can always go up and ask—”
“A policeman!” shouted Mona and Randy and Rush in unison.

“Do you think it’s polite to take the words right out of people’s mouths?” inquired Cuffy, pretending to be offended. “And another thing—”

“DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!” they cried.

“Well,” said Cuffy, giving up. “I can’t say much for your manners but I’m glad to see you’ve got the right ideas at least.”

“What about strange policemen?” said Rush, looking innocent.

~Enright 22

“I guess I’m going to get a scolding when I go home,” Oliver told the policeman. “Maybe I’ll get a spanking too.” All the shine was gone off the day.

“Why, what did you do?”

“Will you promise not to arrest me?” said Oliver cautiously.

“I doubt if it will be necessary,” said the policeman, so Oliver told him.

“Well, I’ll let your family take care of the penalty,” the policeman decided. “It’s a very serious offense all right, but it seems to me you’ve been punished almost enough as it is.”

The traffic cop at Fifth Avenue looked at the mounted policeman and Oliver and said, “You’ve run in another big-time gang leader, I see.”
~Enright 115

Overall Review:

The Saturdays is a wonderful beginning to the Melendy family quartet. It’s a classic children’s book, to be sure, and one that is incredibly realistic in its dialogue and scenes. You will immediately fall in love with the characters and eagerly await their next adventure. Enright knows how to make a book interesting, and keep it interesting, for people of all ages.

You can buy this here: The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet)

Return to Gone-Away: It’s Just A Bit Of A Fixer-Upper…With Hidden Jewels

Return to Gone-Away is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1961. It is the sequel to Gone-Away Lake. More information about Enright can be found here.


“A wish come true. That’s what Portia thinks when her parents buy Villa Caprice, a tumbledown Victorian house along the swampy edge of Gone-Away Lake. A new house is always full of surprises, but Portia is completely unprepared for the extraordinary things that happen when her family moves into a new old house.

Empty for half a century, ugly as a horned toad, Villa Caprice is a mildewy, cobwebby, boarded-up, junk-cluttered museum to a way of life long forgotten. But it is also a wonderland, filled to the rafters with fifty years’ worth of treasures and secrets—small mysteries that Portia and Julian must solve to uncover the greatest secret of all….”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

I think I like this one even more than Gone-Away. If I had to credit my love for old houses and exploring them to any one thing, it would probably be this book. This book fulfills my itch to go to an old house and explore it, redecorate it, go to the attic and explore the chests, search for secret passages and drawers, find lost and forgotten relics of the past…

Both Gone-Away and Return to Gone-Away have that great exploration and adventure feel to them. Enright has a way of writing that makes everything, every action, word, and thought, seem so natural and accurate. The date of Return’s writing means that it’s free of the oftentimes boring/obvious/sickening plot devices that are commonly used today, making for a refreshing and relaxing read.

Opening the trunks in the attic and discovering the safe are probably my favorite parts of the book. Again, I love exploration and discovery, old houses, and the general adventure-y feel in books, and this book hits all of those points.

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s, Classic


Walking briskly, they came to a turn in the drive, the tress thinned out, and there before them stood the Villa Caprice.

There it stood among its dead and brambled lawns, with all its windows boarded up and a big, tough, tangled vine, leafless now, tied round and round the battlements, the turrets, and the gables like a giant’s wrapping twine. Beyond the house the ragged hedges looked black, and the queer tree that was called a monkey-puzzle tree looked black, too, and bristling. The whole scene was shabby and forbidding.

“Oh, dear!” wailed Mrs. Blake. “I didn’t remember it as being quite so—quite so—”

“Bleak,” Mr. Blake supplied. “And this is what we called a bargain! We must have been out of our minds!”

~Enright 33

Among the large trunks there was a very small one, a box really, covered with cowhide and bearing on its curved lid the initial D, made of brass nailheads. She lifted the lid cautiously (she had been very cautious since opening the fur trunk) and saw that the little chest was filled to the brim with yellowed paper bundles.

“Jule, come here; let’s see what these are.”

The paper was so old that it crumbled and powdered when she opened the first bundle; and what it had contained was a seashell, curved and dappled as a little quail.

“Why, how pretty!”

“Look, it’s got a label on it, too.”

And so it had; a tiny glued-on label with the Latin name of the shell written on it in meticulous old-fashion handwriting.

Cypraea zebra,” Julian read, pronouncing the zebra part correctly.

Portia had opened another bundle and held out a brown shell, fancy as a fern.

Murex palmarosae,” read Julian, stabbing wildly at pronunciation.

~Enright 115-116

Overall Review:

Return to Gone-Away is a worthy, and oftentimes better, successor to Gone-Away. The stories of Tarrigo return, and coupled with the exploration of a decades-old house and the discovery of treasures from the past make this book a treasure itself. I’d forgotten how much I love Enright, and these books reminded me.

You can buy this book here: Return to Gone-Away

Gone-Away Lake: Summer Exploring Is The Best Exploring

Gone-Away Lake is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in 1957. You can find more information about Enright here.


“When Portia sets out for a visit with her cousin Julian, she expects fun and adventure, but of the usual kind: exploring in the woods near Julian’s house, collecting stones and bugs, playing games throughout the long, lazy days.

But this summer is different.

On their first day exploring, Portia and Julian discover an enormous boulder with a mysterious message, a swamp choked with reeds and quicksand, and on the far side of the swamp…a ghost town.

Once upon a time the swamp was a splendid lake, and the fallen houses along its shore an elegant resort community. But though the lake is long gone and the resort faded away, the houses still hold a secret life: two people who have never left Gone-away…and who can tell the story of what happened there.”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

If you want to read classic children’s literature, Elizabeth Enright is one of the authors to read. Gone-Away Lake is one of my favorites by her, mostly because the images of idyllic summer, exploration and history are so wonderful to read. This book makes me want to explore the countryside and discover a ghost town. This is something that classic children’s lit does so much better than modern, because in this day and age children don’t really explore by themselves anymore as they did in Enright’s day and earlier. There’s no technology and very little traffic or business in Gone-Away Lake, which means that the book is completely devoted to nature and exploration. And it is wonderful because of it.

This book is also quite funny; Portia and Julian have some amusing dialogue and Enright has some humorous descriptions. The stories Aunt Minniehaha and Uncle Pin tell are wonderful, and the discoveries Portia and Julian make are perfectly described as well as quite stimulating to at least my imagination. That’s one thing to call this book: stimulating.

Again, I just love the explore/discovery aspect of the book. The discovery of the Villa Caprice at the end hints at a sequel, which I probably like even better than this one. But more on that when I review it.

What I Didn’t Like:


Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Classic


They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and all around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of the one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

~Enright 31-32

“Do you know what I would like to offer you, children?” said Mrs. Cheever, tying another apron over the one she was already wearing. “Pin, do you know what I would like to offer them?” She paused dramatically. “A house!” she said. “Here are all these old houses! Nothing ever uses them but bats and birds, and some of them are still quite safe. You could pick a safe one and have it for a clubhouse; bring your friends if you wanted. Oh, Pin, wouldn’t it be nice to hear children’s voices here at Tarrigo again? Though perhaps they wouldn’t care for the idea—” she added hesitantly, looking at them.

But Portia, clasping a dish towel to her wishbone, cried: “Heavenly! Oh, Mrs. Cheever, what a heavenly idea!”

And Julian said: “Brother! Would that be neat!”

~Enright 99-100

Overall Review:

Gone-Away Lake will have you longing for the type of idyllic summer that Portia and Julian end up having. Exploration and discovery, especially of the countryside and old houses, are some of my favorite things to read about, and this book is what caused me to love it. This book, and any Enright book, are a definite recommendation for any child; it’s one of the pinnacles of classic children’s lit.

You can buy this book here: Gone-Away Lake (Gone-Away Lake Books)