It's quite trendy these days to proclaim that one is a "Free-Range Parent," but of course such a term was never necessary when everyone already was a so-called "free-range kid." A perfect example of this is Elizabeth Enright's 1941 classic, The Saturdays, in which all the kids, aged 6 to 13 are allowed roam about New York City by themselves. Well, the 6 year old was not supposed to go out by himself, but... still!
In The Saturdays, the four Melendy children live in NYC and decided to form a club in which each Saturday they pool their allowance and take turns spending an entire Saturday doing whatever they want. Mona goes to the beauty salon, Randy an art gallery, Rush goes to the opera (A 12 year old boy chooses the opera!!) and Oliver sneaks out to see the circus. Along the way they have many unexpected adventures and a strong supporting cast of characters adds to the entertainment. In addition to the independent Saturdays the children experience they spend several Saturdays together exploring the city, and finally heading off to spend their summer by the beach.
New York City plays an important role in the Melendy's life. Enright describes the family's typical brownstone in detail, and the children must navigate the streets on their independent adventures. One chapter is dedicated to a delightful and amusing excursion in Central Park and the zoo and it is fun to think about the differences between the NYC of 1941 and that of today. For example, Oliver goes to the circus at Madison Square Garden's old location at 50th and 8th Ave -- a detail my map-loving 6 year old was quick to point out. But when Oliver is helped home by a mounted policeman, my son then pointed out that police officers in the city still ride on horseback in some locations.
While reading this book to my six year old, I couldn't help thinking about how these kids were having wonderful adventures that they could only have because they didn't have any electronic tranquilizers like video games and you tube to keep them busy and indoors. We recently gave up TV in our own home and I have already noticed the creative difference, so it was fresh on my mind. The Melendy children have a healthy sense of independence and self-reliance, but Enright also surrounds the children with caring adults who support and guide them at important moments.
This was one of the most enjoyable chapter books I have read aloud to my son and I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't like it. Best as a read aloud for ages 6 and up or read alone for ages 8 and up. Pick it up as fast as you can.
We are looking forward to reading the rest of the Melendy children's adventures in The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two.
Secrets and Sharing Soda also has a nice review of The Saturdays.
Big Kid says: My favorite Saturday was the one with the coal gas.