reread a favorite from my childhood, I immediately thought of The Saturdays. I have a little tender spot in my heart for the Melendy family, but my memories of actual details were very limited (basically, the only thing I could tell you was that it was about four children who lived in a house with a cupola on top (and that little bit is actually from the next book, The Four-Story Mistake)).
At first I was just going to read it myself, but then I thought, As long as I'm reading a book from my childhood, I might as well be reading it to my children. And so I did.
There are four children in the Melendy family: Mona (13), Rush (12), Randy (10.5), and Oliver (6). They live in a tall, skinny house in New York City with their father and the housekeeper, Cuffy. On one rather boring Saturday, Randy comes up with a brilliant idea: If they all pool their allowances together each week, they can take turns using the money and going on an adventure. The plan is a good one, but it does backfire a little when Mona uses the money to bob her hair and paint her nails bright red and when Oliver takes the money on his week and goes to the circus all by himself without telling anyone. Eventually, they decide that perhaps it would be a better idea to still combine their resources but go on the adventures together instead.
When I read this book as a kid, I'm pretty sure I didn't think it was anything shocking for a kid my own age to be wandering around New York City alone. I wandered around my town alone. Why shouldn't they? (Granted, there were only 1,700 people in my little town of one square mile, but how different could it be really?) But you can bet I noticed it this time around.
I realize this book was written in the 1940's, and maybe 10-, 12-, and 13-year-olds were more mature and responsible back then (maybe there's no maybe about it), but New York was still a vast city with millions of people, and there were times when they were very much at the mercy of strangers (thankfully, always kind and well-meaning strangers). Their father sends them off with this advice: "Don't get run over. That's the first and most important rule . . . If you get lost or in trouble of any kind always look for a policeman . . . Don't talk to strangers. Unless you know by looking at them that they're kind people, and even then think twice." (I'm not including the six-year-old in any of this because, even though he also was wandering alone around New York City, it was without his father's permission. Speaking of Oliver though, I can't imagine my own six-year-old navigating our city alone . . . he could maybe make it to the park at the bottom of our street, but that's about it.)
Besides that, there were also a couple of truly frightening moments--one when the house fills with coal gas in the middle of the night and they all nearly suffocate and another when Randy leaves a dress hanging over a bare light bulb and the house starts on fire. If I'd remembered those near-tragedies, I probably would have held off reading this to my kids for a few more years. As it was, I couldn't tell that they were negatively affected until we were two pages away from the end and Max said he wanted to stop reading because, "I haven't liked any of it. Not the fire or the coal gas or the sharks. Not any of it." I guess he was processing it after all, and it was scaring him a bit. You can be sure that I felt bad then about reading the whole thing.
So maybe it wasn't the best choice for a four-year-old, but overall, I liked it, and I can see why I liked it so much when I was eleven-ish. I loved their old brownstone, which was so full of personality. I
loved their family unity and the way they loved to do things together. And I loved the distinct personalities of the children and Cuffy, captured so well in the following paragraph when they're on the train, bound for the lighthouse: "Oliver got chocolate all over the windowpane trying to get a last glimpse of Father, and Cuffy mopped her hot face with her best handkerchief. Mona started reading her book almost at once so that the other passengers would realize that travel was nothing new to her, but Randy stared out of the window frankly interested. As for Rush, he surreptitiously opened the suitcase beside him and gave Isaac [the dog] a piece of chocolate."
While it won't go down as one of our favorite readalouds ever, I would still definitely recommend it to kids in the 7-12 age range or to adults who like nostalgia.