Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Book For Summertime

Hello! I often like to read books that correspond with the calendar. I've read some that take the reader month by month throughout a year. These are typically set out in the country, so observations about wildlife, the weather and gardening are prominent. 

However, there's a book I plan on re-reading right now because  most of its action takes place in the summer:

Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. Yes, it's a kid's book - according to Amazon.com, it's for ages 8-12. And yes, I read it as a kid - I was probably around 9 when I read it for the first time. 

I liked the book well enough that I bought my own copy as an adult - before I had a kid as an excuse for buying a children's book.  My edition is the 1987 version; there is a more recent edition shown on Amazon, with a stupid-looking front cover. 

Not that I'm particularly fond of the cover shown above, for the kids look too modern on it. Then There Were Five first came out in 1944. 

Too dated to enjoy today? Our daughter didn't think so when she read it as a youngster - and the reviews over at Amazon seem to agree. Oh, and some of the reviewers were adults like me who'd read this book when they were kids and wanted to enjoy it again for themselves and to share with their own kids as well. 

As I'd mentioned at the beginning of this post, most of Then There Were Five takes place in the summer. The book begins with siblings Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver Melendy building a dam to enlarge their swimming hole. The book ends with a festive October picnic out in the country at an abandoned house site. 

In between the children have many adventures, some of which are related to World War II - a scrap metal drive that leads to new friends, a Victory Garden, canning efforts of the garden surplus, and a country fair and auction to benefit the Red Cross. 

Arrowheads are found, music is played and written, criminals are dodged, there is a lot of nature talk, and the kids have a spell of freedom due their housekeeper's trip out of town for two weeks (their mom had died years ago and their father was often away at his government job in Washington). Due to a tragic house fire, one of their new friends, a boy named Mark, is left with no relatives at all. In rather short order, it seemed to me, the Melendy kids convince their dad (whom, like I said, wasn't even around all that much)to adopt their friend, and that's what happened. Thus, the title of the book. 

Enright had a gift for descriptive writing - people and places alike come alive. Whether it be the wonderful treats baked up by a foodie neighbor, the gloomy exterior of Mark's cousin's home, the vivid red of all those tomatoes Mona and Randy canned (with the help of that foodie neighbor), the backwoods flora and fauna, or the various people that are in the Melendys' lives that summer - everything and everyone is detailed just enough. 

The natural-world talk is informative enough for kids to learn from - I know I did as a kid. And although there's no talk of wounded or dead from the battles of WWII, we do get some sense of the impact the war had on those on the home front. So besides learning about nature, kids can learn about this time period of American history as well. 

But even without the educational element, Then There Were Five is just plain fun to read. Sure, it's a world without high-tech electronics - not even any TV - but the world of the Melendy kids and their family and friends is still a joy to read. If you and your kids haven't read this book, I'd suggest getting it from the library or a bookseller.

And why you're at it, read the other three Melendy books as well - The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake and Spiderweb For Two: A Melendy Maze. Then There Were Five is actually the third book in the series (and yes, I own the first two as well), but since it's a book mostly about summertime activities, I'm going to re-read it now!

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