Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg

This is no ordinary running away story. Claudia Kincaid decided to run away, yes. But, she didn't want to run away from somewhere. Rather, she wanted to run 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.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is Mrs. Konigsburg's second novel, for which she won a Newbery Medal in 1968. It is the story of Claudia Kincaid and her quest for... something. She starts out thinking she is running away because of what she terms "injustice:" the unequal assignment of chores simply because she is the oldest, and the fact that her life seemed to be one big boring routine without end, and the fact that her allowance was hardly enough to do much of anything with. 

Yes, Claudia was unappreciated, and she intended to call attention to that fact by running away. But by the time her adventure is over, Claudia discovers - with the help of the mysterious "Angel" sculpture in the museum and the eccentricities of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - that she had a much deeper reason for running away. It was a reason she somehow knew, but yet didn't know, and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week (and her adventures and experiences there) led her step-by-step to the very conclusion she needed to find.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book, set in the late 1960's, provides a perfect opportunity for comparison and contrast of life then and now. Math comes into the picture when you develop activities devoted to cost-of-living comparisons, or budget development. Could they repeat Claudia and Jamie's adventure on "twenty-four dollars and forty-three cents" today? What has changed? What has stayed the same? Some library science can be slipped in, too: Claudia and Jamie used a card catalogue. Does your library still have one of those? They typed a letter on a typewriter. Do your students know what a typewriter is, let alone know how to use one? You could incorporate the book in a mystery unit as you delve into the "Angel" statue the kids tried so hard to learn about. How did they try to solve the mystery of who carved the statue? What clues did they find? Where did they look for them? So many possibilities: history, math, socioeconomics, art appreciation, even mystery. What can you pull out of this book to make reading come alive for your students?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Claudia and Jamie's adventure is a loved one's worst nightmare. Missing! For a whole week! This book, while showing kids a little bit about the realities of the world and what it takes to try and live on your own, also gives you the perfect springboard to discuss how your kids are feeling. Is running away the best answer when you're upset? How can you let me (us) know how you feel? It's a great opportunity to let them know you are always there for them, and that you want to know how they feel - whatever that feeling may be - so you can help them through it. It is a wondrous thing for a kid to realize they have someone who cares for them unconditionally. There's a security in that. It's the kind of bond everyone yearns for - especially kids.

For the Kids:
Claudia has a lot of the same feelings you may have. It's always interesting to see how someone else deals with things. Sometimes it helps you deal with your own feelings, even if you solve your problems differently than someone else does. Even though running away is not a good idea, and something you should never try, it is fun reading about Claudia and Jamie's adventures. Imagine, sleeping in a hundreds of years old bed! Taking a bath in a public fountain! Riding on the train! Washing clothes! (OK, so maybe that last one isn't such an adventure.) Claudia learns something about herself during this journey. What do you think it is?

For Everyone Else:
Did you read this book when you were a kid? Try reading it again as an adult. Does it feel different to you now? Does it remind you of your own youthful adventures? Ah, life in the late 60's. Train tickets for less than $2. Imagine...

Wrapping Up:
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a journey of personal discovery. Go discover your copy today!

Title: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author and Illustrator: E. L. Konigsburg
Pages: 162
Reading Level: Ages 8-12
Publisher and Date: Aladdin Paperbacks, September 2007
Edition: Third edition paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $9.99
ISBN-10: 1416949755
ISBN-13: 978-1416949756


  1. This looks like an utterly charming book!

  2. Have you ever seen the book "A Christmas Card for Mr. McFizz"? It is my all-time favorite children's Christmas book and sadly out of print. It was published by Green Tiger Press in San Francisco in 1987. I think it deserves to be back in print as a forever classic, but I have no idea how to promote that idea.

  3. Kathi - It is a very charming book! I have not heard of the book you mentioned: "A Christmas Card for Mr. McFizz," but it sounds interesting. I'm going to look for it on Abebooks. Is Green Tiger Books still in business? You could write them a letter and pitch your forever classic idea. The worst thing they could do is say no...

  4. how did the book change your way of thinking?

  5. I really like this book


So, what's on your mind?