Saturday, March 4, 2017

Spiderweb for Two

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze
by Elizabeth Enright
Recommended Ages: 10+

The "Melendy Family" quartet concludes with this book, in which the two youngest and most misadventure-prone of the Melendy children are left behind at the Four Story Mistake, while elder siblings Mona, Rush, and Mark are going to school in the big city. It seems a shame to break up such a fun group of playmates for an entire school year. Randy and Oliver are having a tough time accepting it, at first. But then, the first of a series of rhyming puzzles arrives in the mail, each clue challenging them to solve a riddle and find the next clue.

Their attempts to decipher the clues lead the brother and sister on such whimsical adventures as bearding the town's meanest butcher in his den, getting stuck up a chimney, getting lost in a poisonous pokeweed patch, trying to chop down a frozen waterfall, and blundering blindly into a pile of crockery and glassware while trying to sneak around the house at night. Along the way, they also make a new friend, see a new side of some old ones, and hear some fascinating stories told - the type of story-within-a-story that is often the making of a sweet, nostalgic, humorous book like this.

But those stories aren't the only thing that makes this book. Characters we have grown to love during the previous three books, continue to grow before our eyes. A landscape that has been described to us so well that it takes on an aspect of memory, becomes even better-remembered as more details are filled in. The passing seasons are marked by a minutely observed procession of events in weather, trees and flowers, birds and insect life, and the activities of country folk that too many of us today hardly notice going on around us. And the touch of mystery involved in the rhyming clues occupies not only the left-behind Melendy children, but also their readers of any age, who are willing to become young again and share their discoveries.

This is the sixth book by Elizabeth Enright that I have read, and I have yet to read her Newbery Medal-winning book Thimble Summer. Besides being blessed with a winsome style, she either knew how to explain children to children, or she remembered what it felt like to be one - maybe both. She proved, in book after book, that writing an enduring and entertaining piece of children's literature could be done without resorting to wildly improbable devices, like murders, monsters, magical powers, flying saucers, or superhero costumes. Those can be fun, and no mistake; but the essential things are right here in the Melendy family's well-crafted characters, setting, dialogue, and story.

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