Top 100 Children’s Novels #42: Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
What child has not wanted to discover a lost place and create a special hidden retreat known only to herself and maybe a few friends? That’s what we read about here: cousins finding an abandoned summer colony of houses, with two older characters that have retreated from the world currently living there. Summertime is practically a character here- the feel of hot sun, the sights and smells of the natural world, all lyrically described and overall giving an idyllic feel of what childhood summer used to be, or perhaps never was but what we hoped it could have been. Great book! – Christine Kelly
American Writers for Children, 1900-1960 describes the plot in this way: “In Gone-Away Lake, ten-and-a-half-year-old Portia Blake and her younger brother Foster, who tends to be absorbed in adventure fantasies, spend summer vacation in the country with their Aunt and Uncle Jarman and their cousin Julian, an amateur naturalist. While exploring a swamp which was once a lake resort, Portia and Julian discover a cluster of decayed Victorian summer cottages, where Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton, elderly recluses, maintain their turn-of-the-century way of life in both costume and manner. The children and the old people become fast friends, the former fixing up one of the old cottages for a clubhouse.”
According to “A Secure World of Childhood: The Artistry of Elizabeth Enright” (found in Hollins Critic from April 1998), Ms. Enright was a woman of multiple talents. “Trained as an artist, Enright discovered her vocation as a writer through the impulse to create her own illustrated book. In the process, she found that the writing satisfied her even more than the illustrating, though she continued to illustrate her children’s books with graceful, evocative drawings. She also attained considerable success as a writer of short stories during the heyday of American short story writing around the middle of the twentieth century, publishing her stories both in prestigious and in popular magazines and winning frequent inclusion in the O. Henry Award Prize Stories anthologies and in Best American Short Stories.”
She began her career as a children’s author, a bit unfortunately, with her first book, Kintu: A Congo Adventure. Needless to say, there are reasons why it is not in print today. Kind of crazy to think that this was immediately followed up with the Newbery Award winner Thimble Summer. Other books would follow, including this one. And as American Writers for Children, 1900-1960 put it so well, “As in the Melendy stories, part of the substance of the Gone-Away books lies in the affectionate but lackadaisical friendships among the children and in their appreciation of special adults. Indeed, part of Enright’s humor in the stories about Gone-Away Lake lies in her portrayal of children’s protective instincts towards these interesting creatures, the grown-ups.”
It earned itself a Newbery Honor in 1958, losing out to Rifles for Watie. That’s one of those choices you can feel free to argue vehemently against. The book would also go on to have a sequel called Return to Gone-Away reviewed beautifully here.
- Read some of the book here.
Said critic Eleanor Cameron in The Green and Burning Tree: “If this dream world has been created out of the memory of actuality, in which the intensity of the author’s love for it compelled eyes and ears to absorb every cherished sight and sound, you have such a book as Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake, in which she has called up a shimmer of summer days, rich with humor and beauty, in a place that surely any child who dreams of wandering free through woods and country and swamp would deem as near perfection as is attainable on earth.”
The New York Times said that the book had a, “… brilliance and … humor that make it seem as if it were happening right this minute.”
And a recent Publishers Weekly review of the audiobook said, “Though some of the language is dated and today’s children rarely have the same freedom to wander alone, this tale of friendship and the joys of a life lived well never sounds stale.”
About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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