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

From+the+Mixed-Up

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1968

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

by E. L. Konigsburg

Age: 10+

Interests: museums, art, running away from home, New York City, mysteries

Simon & Schuster: 1967

182 pp. – 10 chapters

Also by this author: The View from Saturday; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

When 12-year-old Claudia Kincaid decides to run away from her boring suburban life, she plans every detail meticulously. Not one for roughing it, Claudia wants to go somewhere civilized, elegant, and comfortable, so the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City seems the perfect choice. And since she doesn’t have enough cash to do it on her own, she brings along her younger brother Jamie, who hoards the loose change he wins in bus-ride card games. Cleverly evading the notice of the entire museum staff, Claudia and Jamie live in the museum for a whole week. When they come across a newly purchased statue, they get caught up in its mystery. Is ‘Angel’ a long-lost masterpiece by Michelangelo, or isn’t she? They decide to find the answer, and their quest leads them to the former owner of the statue: Mrs. Frankweiler of the title.

A smart book with smart characters, written for smart young readers. From the Mixed-Up Files appears on so many Favourite YA Novel lists I can’t even list them here. It has retained its popularity over the decades and is still a fascinating read because of its basic premise: What it would be like to live in a museum? The details of the planning and execution of the children’s rather excellent trickery make this adventure entirely believable. And setting it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art means that anyone who has visited the real thing will feel an extra kinship to Claudia and Jamie. (Or conversely, what a fabulous book to read before a trip to New York!)  The passage of over forty years has, of course, rendered a few things out-of-date, but the basic appeal of the premise is timeless.

That said, it is the mystery of ‘Angel’ which unravels the children’s plans as well as the momentum of the book. I found the final meeting with Mrs. Frankweiler strangely anticlimactic, though it does flow logically out of the children’s actions. The mystery of the novel is really “what does Claudia want to prove by running away?” and “what has to happen before she can go home again?” Claudia’s longings are vague and deeply buried, and she herself is surprised to find out what her motivations are. Mrs. Frankweiler is eerily knowledgeable about the children’s inner thoughts when they finally meet, but this just adds to the charm of the whole. There is no big dramatic climax, but instead a quiet agreement to keep their secrets. You have to hand it to E. L. Konigsburg for writing a novel so unconventional and yet so appealing.

Like I said, a smart book written for smart readers. No pandering allowed.

Movie versions of this book:

The Hideaways (1973) – with Ingrid Bergman; reportedly more faithful to the book

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1995) – with Lauren Bacall; seems to be far less worthy of the book, particularly in the fact that they decided to shoot it in LA instead of actually at the Met in New York

(available at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.