With the exception of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, this was my favorite book that I read as a child. Unlike Number the Stars, which I've read probably five or six times since then, I haven't read this book since the 4th grade at good ol' East Elementary. In fact, I forgot about it altogether until that movie, Night at the Museum came out. I guess the museum setting reminded me of this book, but I couldn't remember the name or the author. I remembered which teacher I had when I read it, and I remember that I loved it. It took a lot of Googling vague plotlines to figure out what the book was, and even longer to actually come across a copy. I finally did, at my favorite used bookstore in Cullman. The final stretch of my 40-book journey seemed a perfect time to re-visit From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, because, let's be honest -- I'm crunched for time, and it took me 3 hours to read this. There. I said it.
E.L. Konigsburg's book about two childhood runaways is every bit as awesome as my 10-year-old self remembers it, and certainly deserving of the Newbery it received in 1968. Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid feels trapped in her boring, controlled life as the oldest sibling in a middle-class Connecticut family. She carefully plans to run away as a way of making those around her appreciate her a little more, and she hopes to come back "different." She chooses a partner in crime -- her younger brother Jamie, who has conveniently saved every penny he's ever earned. The siblings leave home before school one day and wind up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There, they discover a mystery that leads them to the eccentric Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
I don't remember if I realized it then, but now I can see that Claudia reminds me an awful lot of myself as a kid. Not nearly as evil (seriously, you can ask my oldest nephew all about that), but dramatic, calculating, clever, and manipulative. Maybe that's why I liked it when I was a kid, even if it was subconscious. When I was ten, I thought running away and hiding out in a museum like they did would've been the coolest thing in the world. Re-reading this book today, I still want to run away to the Met. I bet the security is a bit more intricate these days, but still. Sleeping in the antique beds, bathing in the fountains... And then finding a centuries-old mystery to solve? Man, count me in.
I love the way E.L. Konigsburg laid this book out -- it's all written as a letter from Mrs. Frankweiler to her lawyer. She tells the story as Claudia and Jamie told it to her. She adds her little asides every now and then, and she's a very brassy character, indeed. There are some simple illustrations peppered here and there that add just enough without making it too juvenile. If you've got a kid, they have to read this book! They have to! And so do you!
Read on November 28, 2010