As Gone-Away Lake begins, Portia, eleven, and her six-year-old brother Foster are setting off all by themselves on the train to visit their cousin, Julian for the summer. They’ve visited before but this is the first time they’ve traveled all by themselves, and both children are excited, not only by the trip–Foster takes delight in eating a three-course meal in the dining car consisting simply of pie–but by the prospect of an entire summer spent simply messing about in the country with good friends…
…and the summer does not disappoint.
The adventures start for Portia and Julian when they pause for a picnic in their explorations and notice that the rock upon which they’re eating has not only garnets embedded in it but an inscription which reads “Lapis Philosophorum Tarquin et Pindar 1891″. After wading through a particularly squelchy marsh, the two come across a cluster of dilapidated Victorian “cottages” ringing the far edge of the swamp they’ve just been wading through. Inhabiting two of the least disintegrating homes are Pindar and Minnehaha, elderly brother and sister who’ve returned to live in the summer homes at which they spent so many childhood summers when the swamp was an actual lake.
Minnehaha (not “MIN”, please!) and Pindar are delighted to see two children appear on their doorsteps, and welcome them in, despite the inevitable mud resulting from stumbling around in a particularly squishy bog. Indeed, they invite them to come back, which Portia and Julian do, nearly every day. Eventually, Foster and his summer buddy twig that the two older kids are disappearing to a particular place…and the secret’s out. Portia’s parents are as taken with this hidden community as the kids, and in the end they purchase one of the houses.
Return to Gone-Away is about the renovation of that house, though as it also is told from the kids’ perspective, there’s more concern with play than with finances. They do spend time searching for the legendary treasure supposedly hidden in a safe somewhere in the house…found just in time to fund the winterization of the house as (oh joy!) the parents have decided to move to Gone-Away Lake year round.
If kids do stumble across this and like it, there’s always Enright’s Melendy family, of course. Also try authors such as Beverly Cleary or for kids who like slightly edgier books, (don’t laugh!) Judy Blume. While nothing truly horrible happens in Blume’s books, she often includes a bit of conflict. Enright’s books tend towards the comfort read end of the spectrum: nothing horrible happens, nothing magical, not even anything particularly dramatic. Just kids playing in the sort of innocent wholesomeness that just misses saccharine Bobbsey Twin territory because the kids are so obviously real, with fears and dislikes of their own; it’s the sort of world in which getting away with not eating the crusts on your sandwich is a big deal, butterfly/moth collecting is either the pinnacle of a summer’s afternoon or annoyingly queasyifying, and spinach is of dubious culinary desirability. Another possibility is Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind-Family series, even including more of Joe Krush’s illustrations, about a Jewish family living in the Lower East Side (of Manhattan) in the early twentieth century, so a different milieu but the same feeling of the everyday life of children going about their daily activities.