Monday, February 11, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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

The Story (from Goodreads): When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere — to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it? 

Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

Why I Liked It:  Okay, so this one's a classic, a Newbery winner, and over 40 years old. Yet I hadn't read it until my son and a couple of his friends decided to film their version of the novel for the 90-second Newbery. I decided to read it too, to see if it stood the test of time.

I have to say it did. The characters are intriguingly quirky, there's a lot of wry humor, and it's a total kid fantasy--I mean, who among us kids hasn't dreamed of escaping from having to live with those pesky grown-ups and their constant demands! Claudia and Jamie's intrepid spirits win us over (even while the grown-up me was worrying about why nobody had recognized the runaways. But that's a modern mindset, in these days of ubiquitous media.)

It's a quick read, so if you've been putting it off it won't take you long to speed through it!

About the 90-second Newbery: This appears to be the brainchild of author James Kennedy. It's a video contest in which filmmakers of any age make movies that tell the entire story of a Newbery award-winning book in 90 seconds or less. The results are shown in New York, Chicago, Portland (!!) and Tacoma. Here's the entry in which my son appears (and we've just had word that it is being screened here in a couple of weeks.)

Finally, I had to laugh at the letter published in the appendix of my 35th anniversary edition of the novel. It's from editor Jean Karl and starts "Since you came in with FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E.FRANKWEILER, I have found myself chuckling over it more than once. I have read it only once... I do really want this book. I will be sending you a contract very shortly..." No mention of agents, editorial boards, sales reps not liking it--and all the other stories one hears about in modern publishing. It seems like you could just walk in to a publishing house with your novel and drop it on the editor's desk! (Nowadays, if you tried that, you'd be chased out by security and then made fun of on Twitter.)

Happy Middle Grade Monday, everyone. I look forward to finding out what you've all been reading!


  1. Wow - great video! I'd forgotten what a good story that book was.

  2. Sadly, I hadn't heard for this. Thanks for spotlighting it. Sometimes it's good to remind us of the older books out there.

  3. Who wouldn't want to read a book with a title like that? Makes me curious already. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. This one is a family favorite around here.
    I don't dare drop a book on an editor's desk but I have volunteered for "transportation duty" at the New England SCBWI conference. I'm hoping I drive an editor from the airport/train station so that I might sneak my ms into said editor's suitcase...heh heh heh.

  5. That has always been my dream except I would've gone to a huge library instead.

  6. How funny that you're featuring this today. I just started re-reading it yesterday as research for a new MG idea of my own. First read it many years ago (too many to admit), and I wanted to see if it was still as much fun as I remembered. In a way it is, but in a way, I'm also appalled by the fact that Claudia and James don't seem to miss their parents! There's also a lot of what agents/editors today would call "telling" or "backstory." But it works so well in this book. Maybe we're all too hard on ourselves today for a bit of telling.

    Your son and his friends did a fine job with the video.

  7. This is one of those 'classics' I haven't yet read. Your enthusiasm is catchy.

  8. I haven't read this one yet, but I now want to! I'm reading some older ones now, too. I like the ones that are a quick read.

  9. Heya i'm for the first time here. I found this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.

    Feel free to visit my web blog :: online backup free
    Here is my site ; online backup software

  10. Thanks for spotlighting this one. It was one of my favorites as a kid. I totally wanted to run away with Jaime and Claudia! And the video was great--best of luck to your son and his friends.

  11. I think Konigsburg is my favorite middle grade author ever. If you haven't tried any of her other books yet, I definitely recommend Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth and The View from Saturday, both of which have also received Newbery recognition.


Youse got something to say? Well, say it then. (The Don and I will shoot you... a personal reply, that is. But if we can't find your e-mail, we'll just reply in the comment box.)