Originally published in 1967, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg won the Newbery Medal in 1968 for excellence in American Children’s Literature, and rightly so as it is an incredible children’s book that comes from a time where authors gave their young readers the benefit of the doubt in assuming they were intelligent readers with a good vocabulary who were looking to read more about realistic characters in a real world. The events in From the Mixed-Up Files could actually happen in real life, and I’m sure have been contemplated by many a child since the publication of the book. (There’s even a reference of a sort in the movie Royal Tenenbaums where Margot plans to do just this.)
11-year-old Claudia Kincaid is bored with her life and being ignored by her parents, so she comes up with an elaborate plan – because she loves planning and organizing – to run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She invites her younger brother, Jamie, to accompany her because he’s smart and has quite a large amount of money due to his cheating at card games. The book goes into detail with how Claudia plans for them to pack clothing and other necessary items, to hide out on the school bus, and then to sneak into the museum with groups of children on a field trip. They hide out in the restrooms when the museum is about to close, and spend the night inside, bathing in the fountain where they take some of the “wishing coins” to help buy food. But there is a new addition to the museum, a beautiful statue of an angel that may have been sculpted by Michelangelo himself, and they plan to find out if this is true or not. The book is told from the viewpoint of an omniscient third-person narrator in Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who is recounting this in written form to her lawyer, as she is the one who sold the statue to the museum at a bargain price, and knows everything.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a very real children’s book, where the kids aren’t perfect by any means, but learn from their mistakes, and have very real personalities, emotions, and reactions. Written at a time where it was expected that children wanted more from the books they read than a wizard, some magic, and a fun story; From the Mixed-Up Files is a story to be enjoyed by anyone at any age.
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Originally written on March 3rd 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.