A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday William MacKellar (The Silent Bells), Rosemary Harris (The Moon in the Cloud), and Mary Christian Blount (If Not For The Calico Cat).
- Best birthday wishes to the United States Postal service, created by the Postal Service Act signed by President George Washington in 1792. Read Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier and Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell, illustrated by Ted Rand.
- National Eating Disorders Awareness Week begins. Read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson).
- Another example of a special day for something that should really be celebrated every single dayâ€”Itâ€™s Love Your Pet Day.
Today in 1872 the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors for the first time. Founded by a group of businessmen and financiers, the Met was established to bring art and art education to Americans. Over the years, many families, school classes, and children have visited the magnificent collection. But it wasnâ€™t until 1967 that an author for children found a way to make this building and its contents really accessible to young readers.
Several elements came together in the mind of E. L. Konigsburg while she was constructing the plot for her ingenious second novel, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In 1965, Konigsburg read a New York Times article about the Metâ€™s purchase of a statue, The Lady with the Primroses, possibly the work of Leonardo da Vinci. However, her â€śahaâ€ť moment occurred on a family picnic at Yellowstone National Park. In this gorgeous setting her children kept complainingâ€”about the heat, the ants, the melting icing on the cupcakes. Where, Konigsburg asked herself, could these privileged children ever run away to if they wanted to escape home? Nothing less grand than the Met would be good enough for them! So Konigsburg began her novel, basing the protagonists on her son and daughterâ€”and she tested out what she was writing on them for good measure.
In From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, bored with suburban life, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away. Bringing her younger brother, Jamie, along with her because he has enough funds to finance the expedition, Claudia picks the Met as their destination. Much better than a desert island, the Met has sumptuous antique canopy beds to sleep in and fountains where they can take baths. During the story the children meet the eccentric Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and even discover the secret of a new acquisition to the museum.
In 1968 Konigsburgâ€™s first novel, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth won a Newbery Honor and From the Mixed-up Files won the Newbery Medal. Talk about a good year for a rookie author! However, our birthday celebrant, the Met, remained dubious about the book for some years. No doubt staff members worried that it would send scores of children hunting for a camping spot. Eventually, the responses of children to the story won the Met overâ€”and they published a guide to the rooms mentioned in the book.
Over forty years after publication, this Robinson Crusoe story still captivates young readers. For many of us, when we look at those canopy beds in the Met or other museums, we canâ€™t help but wonder what it would be like to sleep on them, for at least one night. Probably they would be lumpyâ€”but not in our dreams.
Hereâ€™s a passage from From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler:
Once at the library, they examined the directory which told what was available where and when the library was open. In the downstairs Art Room the librarian helped them find the books which Claudia selected from the card catalogue. She even brought them some others. Claudia liked that part. She always enjoyed being waited on.
Claudia began her studies never doubting that she could become an authority that morning. She had neither pencil nor paper to make notes. And she knew she wouldn’t have a lot of time to read. So she decided that she would simply remember everything, absolutely everything she read. Her net profit, therefore, would be as great as that of someone who read a great deal but remembered very little.
Claudia showed the executive ability of a corporation president. She assigned to Jamie the task of looking through the books of photographs of Michelangelo’s work to find pictures of Angel. She would do the reading. She glanced through several thick books with thin pages and tiny print. After reading twelve pages, she looked to the end to see how many more pages there were to go: more than two hundred. The book also had footnotes. She read a few more pages and then busied herself with studying some of Jamie’s picture books.
“You’re supposed to do the reading!”
“I’m just using these pictures for relief,” Claudia whispered. “I have to rest my eyes sometime.”
Originally posted February 20, 2011. Updated for .