Then There Were Five

Book: Then There Were Five
Author and Illustrator: Elizabeth Enright
Publisher: Square Fish, reissued in 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0805070621 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0805070621 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0312376000 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0312376006 (Paperback)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Enright, Elizabeth. Then There Were Five (published in 1944 and reprinted in 2002 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, a division of Henry Holt and Co., New York City, NY). The Melendy children, fifteen-year-old Mona, fourteen-year-old Rush, twelve-year-old Miranda (Randy), and seven-and-three-quarters-year-old Oliver, live with their father, their housekeeper Cuffy, and their gardner/handyman Willy Sloper, in The Four Story Mistake, an old house in the countryside near the villages of Braxton and Carthage, NY. Mr. Melendy, a widowed professor of economics, has been hired by the government for a secret, World War II related job, and must go off to Washington. Mona likes the theater. Rush is a musician. Randy is into ballet. And Oliver is fascinated with nature. As summer begins, the children, having moved from their city brownstone the previous fall, venture into their new neighborhood with the intention of helping their country. They end up making new friends, such as the Addison children, Mr. Jasper Titus, and especially Mark Herron, a boy about Rush’s age, while collecting scrap metal.

Mark is under the care of his abusive adult cousin Oren Meeker, who has some rather unsavory associates. Then Cuffy is called away to care for a sick cousin. Next there is a fire at the Meeker farm, and Oren is missing. Is there anything that the Melendys can do to help? What will happen to Mark? I first became acquainted with the works of Elizabeth Enright through her Newbery Medal winner Thimble Summer, and then her Newbery Honor book Gone-Away Lake, both of which I really enjoyed, so I speedily picked up Then There Were Five at a used book sale. The book is actually the third of the “Melendy Family Quartet,” four books about the Melendys. Just a good, old-fashioned, fun read about a loving family and children who use their imagination, it is preceded by The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake, and followed by Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze. It has been described as the “story of a long and glorious summer in the country with the Melendy family.”

Aside from one reference to smoking a pipe, the most annoying thing about the book, something that others noticed in their reviews too, is the seemingly inordinate amount of euphemisms ( such as gosh, gee, blamed, golly, heck, darned, confounded, by gum–someone called them “objectionable slang and replacement-swear words;” Mr. Melendy even uses the term “O Lord” once as an interjection). Otherwise, there is little objectionable. However, this is not just a “nice story” about some “cute kids.” There is real conflict—an abusive guardian, a fire, even a death. However, there is also a lot of good-natured humor, and in the end everything comes out right. In addition, Enright educates her readers as she entertains them. Thanks to Mark’s talent for natural history, we learn about the Perseid meteor shower that comes every August and the poisonous amanita mushroom. And the scene with the social worker is priceless, especially to anyone who has ever adopted or tried to adopt children.

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