From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg
|From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Rebecca Foster|
|Summary: Claudia and Jamie Kincaid run away to live in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. In one eventful week, they confirm that the museum's newly acquired angel statue is by Michelangelo and meet a surrogate grandmother. A children's classic.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: June 2015|
|Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Eleven-year-old Claudia Kincaid is tired of being taken for granted. As the oldest of four children, she suffers many an injustice, and the interplay of school and home life is becoming monotonous. She decides to run away from her home in Greenwich, Connecticut to live in the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. Middle brother Jamie, 9, is her chosen companion, not least because he can fund their venture. By cheating his friend Bruce at card games, Jamie has accumulated more than $24 – which, in 1967 when this classic children's novel first appeared, was not an insignificant amount.
Everything is meticulously planned: they will run away on a Wednesday, music lesson day, so that they can stuff their instrument cases full of clean clothes; and every day at museum opening and closing time they will hide in the toilets while they wait for the guards to leave. Cheap meals from the snack bar or outside cafes will sustain them, and each day they will choose a different museum exhibit to learn about. At night they can bathe in the fountain and gather up its carpet of coins to replenish their supply of money.
As Claudia and Jamie settle into their new routine, the museum is abuzz with its new acquisition, a statue of an angel rumoured to be by Michelangelo. It was purchased from the collection of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for $225. The children find a clue that seems to confirm the statue's provenance and alert the museum officials through an anonymous letter, but the situation may be more complicated. They decide to set off for Mrs. Frankweiler's home to search her files for definitive proof and, in the process, win over this prickly octogenarian with their pluck and determination.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of the key books of my American childhood. I first read it for school, but reread it over and over. All these years later, phrases were still familiar to me, such as Jamie's frequent exclamation of 'Oh, boloney!' and the kids' cute habit of calling each other 'Lady Claudia' and 'Sir James'. I clearly remembered the old-fashioned, slightly fuzzy black-and-white illustrations, and the delicious overall sense of adventure and secrecy.
This must have been one of the most sophisticated novels I had encountered by that point. Narrated by Mrs. Frankweiler in the frame of a letter she is writing to her lawyer, Saxonberg, it is based on the children's oral account of their New York City adventure. The museum and archive settings are a perfect way to get children interested in art, history and library research. This was the original Night at the Museum before that franchise was ever dreamed up.
Revisiting this childhood favourite, I found it a tiny bit dated, what with the impossibly low prices and Claudia wearing a 'petticoat'. Some things haven't changed, though. Konigsburg captures school group chatter and brother/sister banter perfectly. Claudia is always correcting Jamie's grammar, but he grudgingly acknowledges his appreciation of her: 'You know, Claude, when I'm not wishing I could give you a sock right in the nose, I'm glad you're on my team. You're smart even if you're hard to live with.' Konigsburg also lovingly evokes the constant bustle of the Big Apple: 'If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought.'
Konigsburg (1930–2013) was a beloved children's author and illustrator. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a bestseller and twice won the Newbery Medal, one of the premier American prizes for children's fiction. It's an ideal novel for eight- and nine-year-olds to read alone or with parents. This beautiful Pushkin Children's reprint, with its wonderfully whimsical cover, should introduce this classic to a whole new generation.
Further reading suggestion: Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery is another children's classic we cannot recommend more highly.
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You can read more book reviews or buy From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg at Amazon.com.
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