I'm indebted to Susan Green for reminding me about these books in her discussion of Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays (which I must also re-read). I'm feeling a strong need for comfort books at the moment and thank heavens I have shelves and shelves of glorious children's books which I've collected and in which I can immerse myself in the coming days and weeks and -- God help us -- months.
As a child, I was utterly bewitched by Gone-Away Lake (which I bought from the Scholastic Book Club in PNG some time in the mid-70s -- there's no date on the edition, annoyingly -- it was the only way to buy new books in PNG at the time and I would get so excited!) and Return to Gone-Away (I picked up this copy at a library book sale a few years ago).
The premise is fabulous -- two children discover, by the shores of a swamp which used to be a lake, a collection of long-abandoned holiday houses, now inhabited only by aged brother and sister, Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever. The relationship the children form with the old people is gorgeous, respectful but fun, and 'Uncle Pin' and 'Aunt Minnehaha' tell them entertaining stories about their own childhood adventures when the lake was there. There is humour and excitement (Portia's little brother almost drowns in the swamp, they search for the lost safe and treasure of the formidable Mrs Brace-Gideon) but the most enjoyable aspect for me, of course, is the idea of the deserted houses, still filled with furniture and old stuff for the taking, sinking into gentle decay. Min and Pin are vigorous and wise, perfect godparents, and in the second book, Portia's family have bought and are restoring one of the more-intact houses.
Throughly enjoyable, and the illustrations are terrific, too. The books were written in the 1950s, and the houses haven't been inhabited for fifty years -- they would be about 120 years old now. Which makes them even more enticing... I don't really fancy the swamp, though.