A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
FEBRUARY 20:

  • 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 day—It’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 wasn’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 Met’s purchase of a statue, The Lady with the Primroses, possibly the work of Leonardo da Vinci. However, her “aha” moment occurred on a family picnic at Yellowstone National Park. In this gorgeous setting her children kept complaining—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 daughter—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 Konigsburg’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 over—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 can’t help but wonder what it would be like to sleep on them, for at least one night. Probably they would be lumpy—but not in our dreams.

Here’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.”

 

Share

Originally posted February 20, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Art, Award Winning, Humor, Newbery, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Share

COMMENTS

  1. Chelsey says:

    I hadn’t read this until this summer, even though I loved Konigsburg’s other books. It’s fabulous! I can never look at The Met the same way again!

    I love books that use real places in this way, to give kids a sense of familiarity if they know the location, or adventure if they don’t! And also the introduction of info about art and artists in such a fun book is fabulous

  2. Sydnee says:

    I remember this book being the model for all of my childhood run away plans. I thought the fountain idea was brilliant!

  3. Tess W. says:

    I also wanted to model my childhood escapes after this book, and my resentment of my family was similar. I’m with Chelsea – the Met was a whole new place for me after this book!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Funny- I just began this book again yesterday and love that Konigsberg’s observations about her children on a picnic make it into the very first pages of the book! This was a childhood favorite of mine and recently I decided to reread… what a pleasure to find the same captivating story that I did as a child, with the addition of appreciation for what I missed as a young reader. If you haven’t read it in awhile, read it again! It might be even better as an adult.

  5. Yukari says:

    This was my favorite book in elementary school and I repeatedly checked it out from the school library; I can still picture where it was shelved. Like many commenters, it was my ideal fantasy running away plan. I was such a rule-following, goody-two-shoes that I would never have had the nerve to actually run away, but through Claudia and Jamie (and Mrs. Konigsburg’s words) I could live out that fantasy. Growing up in Los Angeles, the setting (the Met and NYC) was also appealing, and that interest partially manifested itself in my choice of where I went to college. And when I finally made it to the Met … gosh! It was like a childhood dream come true.

  6. Mandy says:

    This is one of my favorite books! I remember my librarian reading it to us in 5th grade. Some of us wanted to know if some of the works mentioned were acutally at the Met and our librarian helped us write a letter to the Met to ask. We were amazed that we received a letter in a few weeks! There were even postcards from the gift shop included… I still have mine!!! I have such fond memories of the book & love to share them with students when they read it!

  7. When I was a new, young teacher in Ardsley, NY many years ago, I read this just-released book to my class. We all adored the story. I couldn’t stop reading it to them and they wouldn’t let me. Alas, I suspect we cut into several math classes. But who cared? Not I, nor the enthralled students. When we finished this delightful book, we made a class trip to the Met itself, but no sleep-overs were offered. Still, it was a rewarding experience all around.

  8. Debbie says:

    I remember discovering this book as a child and then sharing it with my mother and grandmother, who loved it as much as I did! They used to take me and my siblings regularly to the Met, where we always had lunch in the cafe by the fountain where Claudia and Jamie bathed and collected change. It makes me so sad that the fountain is gone now.

  9. G.Perry says:

    This was one of the books in on Anita’s 100 Best Books for Children list. I made notes about each book as I read from that list. From my notes on this one, I wrote “Loved! Read again.”

    It turned out to be a book I will read more than once. It was a lot of fun, I couldn’t wait to turn each page, and as I have very early experiences with great escapes, (which were not fun) this book has a special place in my heart.

  10. Momo says:

    I too recently read this book. I remember as a Grade five student seeing it in my school library with the bright winning sticker. Here in Australia I was fascinated by books that won prizes. I was not sure if I would still love this book after all this time. I picked it up and read it in one sitting. I was especially interested to see the bits I remembered such as the fountain, the bed, the statue itself and the kindness of Mrs Frankweiler. The library scene you relate is one of my favourites of course because I am a Teacher-Librarian! I will be in NY this year so I can visit the Met for myself. Did you know there is a link between this book and Wonderstruck?

  11. My fifth-grade teacher read this book aloud to us. That experience changed my life. So thanks to Miss Laudenslager and to E.L. Konigsburg. I met Elaine Konigsburg after my second book was published and was, for the only time in my life, speechless.

  12. CLM says:

    I read and loved this book very soon after it came out after finding it in my grade school library, and it is interesting to think about that now: do school libraries even have the budget to buy new hardcovers? If books are electronic in the future, how will a child find this interesting cover and be as intrigued as I was?

    As an adult, working to promote the book Art for Dummies, I brought a group of Barnes & Noble executives to dinner and a tour of the Met with author and Met Director Thomas Hoving. He certainly had a positive attitude toward Mixed Up Files and told me how entertaining the filming of the movie was (which I have never seen – how could it live up to the book?).

  13. Jennifer says:

    Just catching up a bit and was pleased to see one of my favorite books. I loved this book as a kid, and last year re-read it then gave it to my son. He kind of just put it on his bookshelf. We finally read it together finishing last week. After the first night reading together he told me “You were right Mom, this is a good book.” Maybe he is learning. :) Thanks for sharing such great books. I love your site.

  14. suzi w. says:

    I generally HATE new covers, but I feel the need to run out and buy a copy of this one RIGHT NOW!! Wow.

    This book was a favorite, one of the few books I remember in the 2 years where I devoured every book in sight. (The others I remember are: Mandy by Julie Edwards, the Shoe books, and 100 Dresses, so haunting.)

    I was living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and loved New York, though I’d only been once or twice. This book captivated me in a way few books ever have since, and I may have only read it the one time. I still remember the details of putting the brother’s horn? trumpet? inside the blanket at the bottom of the bed so they could use the instrument case as a suitcase.

    Thank you, Anita. Your almanac is truly a public service.

    xo,
    Suzi

  15. A truly wonderful book that I read multiple times as a kid. I loved the conceit that Frankweiler herself was narrating, and that we later got to *meet her* in the story. That tale-within-a-tale structure inspires me today.

  16. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    This was the book that inspired me to run away — but only as far as the end of the drive. Because I had no access to a brother with a large amount of money, I brought my cat, who was thoroughly amused, and this book. I re-devoured it just in time for my Dad to get home with pizza. I didn’t even notice I was so lost in this wonderful book.

  17. I have always loved this book. I have recommended it to many children at the library and all of my own have read it too. Loved it! Still do!

  18. Melanie Kimball says:

    This was one of my very favorite books as a child. When I finally got to New York City as an adult, I made a beeline for the Metropolitan Museum of Art solely because of my love for this book. I was SO disappointed to discover that the fountain no longer existed! I think this book still holds up as historical fiction (horrors! Books from my childhood are now “historical”) for today’s children.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.