From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Kid Lit Blog Hop

basilMaybe it is because my brother and I would play “runaway” or maybe because I loved the idea of museums and cities, but From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books as a child.

E.L. Konigsburg wrote the book with sophisticated language and made me feel more “adult” reading that language, which parallels the experience of Claudia and her brother, James as they live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The book begins with a letter from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and is often interrupted with her thoughts, although the reader doesn’t officially meet her until the end.

Claudia Kincaid is a observant 11 year old and decides she must run away from home because she is unappreciated.  Claudia is somewhat neurotic and makes her plans to leave very detailed.

Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere.  To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place.  And that’s why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Claudia chooses her companion,  9 year old brother Jamie.  Jamie is a perfect companion for the city because he has cash available from his card game winnings.  Jamie plays War with his friend, although he admits to cheating to win more money.  Based on Claudia’s detailed plan, they roll up their clothes in their music instrument boxes.  They hide on the seats while the rest of the children leave the bus for school.  They hide out and are able to escape undetected to the train station, where they take the local train to Grand Central.

Claudia appointed him treasurer; he would not only hold all the money, he would also keep track of it and pass judgment on all expenditures.(…) In fact when they emerged from the train at Grand Central into the underworld of cement and steel that leads to the terminal, Claudia felts that having Jamie there was important.  And his money and radio were not the only reasons. Manhattan called for the courage of at least two Kincaids.

Following Claudia and Jamie on their adventure, the reader gets to see the very detail of their days in the museum.  They follow a strict regimen of getting up before the security guards arrive, hiding out while the janitors and guards open up the museum and leaving during open hours for food.  Jamie takes his money very seriously and often their arguments stem from Claudia’s willingness to spend it.

I love all of the details that are involved with their adventure at the Met.  Konigsburg makes the narrative easy to image with details like Claudia and Jamie hiding their clothes and music cases during the day.  For their lunch hour, they simply follow the school groups into the cafeteria and eat with them.  Konigsburg details how they perfect the art of being a part of the group, but always being slightly apart.

Claudia and Jamie spend their time visiting museum exhibits that interest them, like the Egyptian mummies.  They also take interest in the latest museum acquisition, the “Angel” statue.   The statue is rumored to be created by Michelangelo and Claudia takes a special interest in its beauty.  They decide to become investigators and find the truth behind the creator of the statue.

They take time to go the library to research their investigation and find some clues that give them ideas.  Meanwhile, their parents have reported them missing and are frantic to find their children.

One evening they decide to bath in the fountain that has bronze dolphins. Claudia had taken powdered soap from the restroom.  She had ground it out into a paper towel that morning.  Even though it was freezing cold, she enjoyed her bath.

Jamie discovers all of the money that is at the bottom of fountain, not doubt from the wishers.   They find money to add to their funds and discuss homesickness.

Claudia and Jamie send a letter to the museum with all of their special investigative information on the Angel statue.  Claudia receives the return letter and is disappointed that she and Jamie aren’t going to be able to solve the mystery.  Jamie ready to go home but Claudia points them in the direction of Farmington, Connecticut.

They go to the home of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who made the Angel statue donation.   The Kincaids find themselves at a very nice estate.    They have an interesting dialogue where the Kincaids decide to exchange information with Mrs. Frankweiler.  She knows their museum secrets and will give them a chance to learn her secret about the Angel.  They discover that the statue was created by Michelangelo.

Frankweiler is quite frank with them and reveals their reasons for running away.  I continued, “Returning with a secret is what she really wants.  Angel had a secret and that made her exciting, important. Claudia doesn’t want adventure.  She likes baths and feeling comfortable too much for that kind of thing.  Secrets are the kind of adventure she needs.  Secrets are safe, and they do much to make you different. “

Claudia and James return home with the knowledge of the secret of the Angel statue and an experience none of their peers had had.  The language is smart, the details are fascinating and the relationship of the brother and sister are funny.  I think this is a great book for parents and children because adults can find many nuances and funny moments within it.  Also,  it would be a perfect read for any child who is going to visit New York City or has an interest in museums.  Even if they don’t?  It is a perfect tale of independence.  They are children very  much living in adult world and part of their satisfaction is that they are able to survive.

Morris reported that a violin case was found in a sarcophagus last week.  A trumpet case was found two days later.

(Konigsburg, E.L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Atheneum, 1967)

3 Comments

  1. Fascinating story. It seems the themes are quite heavy – did it feel that way? I mean, those kids are so young and it is quite serious to essentially have them living as runaways. Really curious about this book. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. new follower via Twitter. 🙂

    April 21, 2013
    • pcuenin said:

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s certainly an introspective piece and re-reading as an adult feels like heavier themes – but, I don’t remember that as a child (this was one of my favorites from middle school!)

      April 22, 2013
  2. Reshama said:

    I have heard similar things about this book and am curious to read it myself.Thanks for the reminder! It has been on our must read shelf for later. I am always looking for books that have good language and this definitely fits the bill.

    April 23, 2013

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