Review: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The start of the new year is often a time for reflection or nostalgia. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a throwback to some of the books I read in elementary school. I remember being mesmerized by the idea that two elementary school aged kids could run off to New York City and hide out in a museum for over a week.
I decided to reread the book based on two events recently that brought the book to my attention. First, I completed a Facebook meme that asked readers to list 10 books that were in some way memorable, influential, or just meaningful to the reader even if they might not be fine literature. From the Mixed-Up Files was one of the books that immediately came to mind to me. The second event was a Wikipedia reference in a movie article that mentioned that two adaptations were made of the book; I wasn’t aware that it had ever been made into a movie.
The plot itself is wrapped in a frame story written by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In it, two children, Claudia and her brother Jamie, run away to New York City and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Claudia’s initial intention is to escape the “injustice” she perceives at home, but she eventually realizes that her real goal is to experience something new and come home changed. She brings her young brother along because he is extremely “rich” — having about $25 saved up. During their stay in the museum, in which they must deal with security, find a place to sleep, ensure that they can eat, do laundry, and discover additional means of funding, they determine to uncover a mystery of who sculpted a newly acquired sculpture.
For me, one of the most memorable scenes, which has stayed with me for (gasp!) 30 years, is the use of the museum restaurant’s fountain in order to bathe. In it, they discover that patrons have thrown wishing coins, which help to fund their stay a bit longer.
The adventures are simple and the book is quite short, but it is easy to see why it was awarded a Newberry. The banter between the siblings — grammar corrections by a self-satisfied older sister and squabbles over how money is to be spent — is clever and not stilted. The two children are portrayed as uniquely different individuals with different personalities and goals.
Does the book hold up to 2014 vs 1967? In large part, I think yes. The children are not dumbed down nor are they portrayed as adult surrogates. The advent of cell-phones, internet searches, and heightened security concerns are probably the areas of most difference from current day. But the only jarring item is the value of money — having lunch for 75 cents, for example, and surviving in NYC for over a week with little more than $25.
4 out of 5 stars (finished January 1, 2014)
Currently reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens