Old Favorites: Spiderweb for Two, by Elizabeth Enright

Spiderweb for Two: a Melendy Maze, by Elizabeth Enright, is actually the final book in what’s now called The Melendy Quartet.  Originally published in 1951, ten years after the original book in the quartet,  it stands well on its own as a mystery, a family story, and a great treasure-hunting quest.

Randy and Oliver Melendy are the youngest children in a family of five. They’ve always participated in adventures with their older sister and brothers…but now, this winter is going to be the worst ever. Mona is gone to New York City to be an actress, and Rush and Mark are off to boarding school.  That leaves  eleven year old Randy and nine year old Oliver  rattling around in their big old house, the Four-Story Mistake, with just Cuffy their housekeeper and Isaac the handyman for company.

Artistic Randy is certain that she won’t survive the gloominess of  having only Oliver to talk to, while practical Oliver is as certain that being stuck with just Randy is going to be horrible.

But out of the blue, a mysterious envelope arrives in the mail, elegantly inscribed with their names. Inside is a verse:

I point a clue for you to find,
But find me first. Nearby I stand.
Among the tallest of my kind,
At four o’clock on a fine day
My shadow’s peak lies on the land
Where, if you spade the earth away,
A golden clue will come to hand
And speed you on the perilous way!

P.S. This clue must be uncovered before many days have elapsed. The sun changes each day, so–where my shadow falls this week, that is the spot where you must seek! And not a word to anyone!

Who could resist a challenge like that? Not Randy and Oliver! They’re positive  that solving the riddle will lead them to a dangerous and interesting treasure.  They try to figure out who could have left the clue, but decide that it will become clear once they find the treasure.  But when they find the right place to “spade the earth” they find…a second riddle?

Solving the riddles and following the clues leads the two through a spiderweb of connections as they meet new friends and learn more about old friends.  They also explore the countryside around their home as they try to decipher the mystery of  who is leaving the clues and figure out what will be the grand reward at the end.

I loved the Melendy books when I read them in elementary school;  although at first glance they seem timeless, they do have a specific time period. The first book was published  in 1941 and there are references to daily life during World War II throughout the series.  The children’s father works in Washington D.C, doing something related to the war, and their mother died when Oliver was a baby; the kids are pretty self-sufficient, relying mostly on Cuffy, their live-in housekeeper/nanny/surrogate grandmother to care for them.  Mona, the aspiring actress, wants to act in the movies (although she gets her start on radio dramas).  Rush is musical and a bit of a trouble-maker, while Randy is a tomboy who loves to dance. Oliver is very scientific and usually covered in dirt. Mark is a later addition to the family; a boy rescued from neglectful relatives and adopted. The kids roam both New York City and the countryside around their home on their own, and make friends easily with people (often strangers) as they meet them.

Although Spiderweb for Two is my favorite, I’m also fond of  Then There were Five, where Randy and Rush set out to find scrap metal for the war effort  only to find a new brother in Mark.  I wanted to move to a house in the country  as the Melendys  did in The Four Story Mistake, with a cupola on the top and a secret room in the attic. I even tried to convince my sisters to pool our allowances so that we could each have a more expensive adventure once a month, as they do in The Saturdays.  (MY sisters shot me down.)

This  series is called a quartet because  it doesn’t really matter in which order they’re read. Each book stands on its own, and can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. The books are great read-alouds, with rich language and descriptions.   I’d recommend them for readers in fourth through sixth grade, and as read-alouds to second grade and up.  The clues in Spiderweb for Two are tough, but it’s fun to see if the reader can solve them before Randy and Oliver do.

If you like these books, you might also try some of Enright’s other titles.  I think I’ll save them for another Old Favorites entry though.


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