Monday, October 10, 2011

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

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler written by E.L. Konigsburg:

Recently, I've tried reading 3 modern, adult books of fiction that sounded very promising, but ended up being terrible.  One of the books (I won't name any names!) had lines like, "so-and-so really liked living here."  Yes, profound writing, indeed!  So, after returning 3 novels, all unfinished, promptly to the library, I decided to redirect my reading strategy and try something a little older, for folks a little younger, and something that won a Newbery Award in 1968 (this is the icing on the cake, so to speak).  I'm happy to say that this book was thoroughly enjoyable and went back to the library after completion, though reluctantly.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the story of Claudia, a 6th grader who decides to run away from home.  Or, as she explains, she's not running away, but rather running to something.  That place ends up being the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  She decides to include her younger brother, Jamie, in her scheme, since he has a piggy bank full of money!

Claudia is a planner, so she plots their escape and instructs Jamie on how to keep it a secret (in a funny scene, Jamie decides it best to eat the note from Claudia with their plans written on it).  After hiding out in the back of their school bus, the pair sets off for a train ride into the city.  Once there, Jamie, the financial department of the operation, insists they walk all the way to the museum instead of spending any of their limited funds on a bus or (gasp!) a taxi.

Once at the museum, the reader is treated to the details of their logistics (how do two school-age children  live at the museum without being discovered?) as well as the descriptions of all the rooms and exhibits that the children encounter.  Claudia insists that they spend their time learning everything at the museum.  However, a short time after they "move in", they explore the Italian Renaissance wing.  While there, a huge crowd is gathered around a small statue of an angel.  Claudia & Jamie set out to find out what all the fuss is about and learn that the statue was sold to the museum for a mere $250.......and it is possibly an original work of Michelangelo.

At this point, the story takes a shift, as our two runaways devote all their time trying to solve the mystery of "Angel."  Their sleuthing takes them all the way to the home of the seller of the statue, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  It is here that they make discoveries about the statue, and Claudia makes a discovery about herself.

As you can see, there is a lot happening in the story and the pace moves along at a good speed.  I loved how Claudia and Jamie interacted in the story - they fought like real siblings, and also had touching moments (it's also cute how Jamie calls her "Claude" all the time).  Claudia is the leader, but Jamie is an equal partner and exerts his opinion often, and exerts his authority over issues of money.

At first, I was going to read the book with the Bachsters, but I'm glad I decided not to.  While the subject matter is benign, I didn't want them getting ideas of running away put into their heads (and after reading the story, running away does sound pretty fun).  There is also a part in the story where Jamie finds a chocolate bar, still in its wrapper.  Claudia warns him that it could be "doped."  He eats it anyway, and acts as if he's been poisoned, just for dramatic affect.  Again, a topic that could be brought up with younger kids, but probably better for older ones.  I'd say 5th or 6th graders would probably be a good age to enjoy, and understand, this book.

Also, if you read it, I'd recommend the recently re-released version, with an afterword from the author.  I enjoyed reading her insights into the book and the museum, since its original publication.  And, I recommend the audio version of the book, too.

Now that I've read the book, I'm just dying to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art!  And while the elaborate bed where Claudia and Jamie slept has since been dismantled (a fact learned from Konigsburg's afterword), I have a feeling there is a violin case nestled in an ancient sarcophagus, filled with gray clothing, waiting to be discovered.


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