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Top 100 Children’s Novels: #80: The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright

#80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
25 points

Seems fairly funny that not only would The Saturdays make it onto this list but its sequel to boot!

The plot from Wikipedia reads, “During the height of World War II, the Melendy family find themselves moving out of New York City and into the countryside. Randy, the third child of the Melendy family, feels saddened and sombered by the move. But the house they move into turns out to be an adventure unto itself. The Four-Story Mistake is an odd-looking house with a rich architectural history, surrounded by bucolic countryside. The four Melendy children soon become absorbed in the adventures of the country, adjusting themselves with all their accustomed resourcefulness and discovering the many hidden attractions that the house has to offer. Oliver discovers buried history, Rush is stranded in a tree during a storm, Randy finds a diamond in the most unlikely of places, and Mona learns what it truly means to be an actress. And none of them could have ever guessed at the secret hidden in their very own play space, the office—a secret that had been shut away for over 60 years.”

There is a truly beautiful article at NPR by author Mairsa de los Santos called Taking Comfort in a ‘Four-Story Escape’ that puts this book into the larger context of children’s literature and what books mean to kids.  At one point she says, “Enright, the author of The Four Story Mistake, is a writer who gives you an an entire, flesh-and-blood person in two sentences. Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are utterly alive, and are complicated, but they are uncomplicatedly happy. They stage elaborate plays, ice skate at night, and collect scrap metal. Always together, always living with an abundant, freewheeling joy. They have reasons to worry — motherlessness, World War II — but they don’t. When I was with them, I didn’t either.”

There’s also a top notch review of the book at Jen Robinson’s Book Page.  Jen really knows how to get inside the heads of the child characters.  Plus I like this quote she located:

” ‘That suitcase looks as if it were laughing out loud,’ Randy said.
‘Oh, stop being whimsical,’ snapped Rush.”

  • Check out the original interior art on the book’s website (isn’t it nice that Macmillan cared enough to give it all these bells and whistles?).

Publishers Weekly said of the book, “The Melendys are the quintessential storybook family…[their] ardent approach to living is eternally relevant.”

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Genevieve says

    Thanks for the link to Marisa de los Santos writing about the Melendys. Her first book, Love Walked In, has a child character comparing Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, and Mary Lennox, and thinking about other literary orphans in terms of how they would act in her situation.

  2. I love this book so much. I like everything that Enright wrote, but this book especially tops the list. Randy and Rush are on my list of favorite literary heroines and heroes, respectively, and the Melendys themselves are among my favorite literary families. Growing up, I desperately wanted them all to be real – I knew that Randy and Rush and I would all be the best of friends.