The children’s classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler appeared on the literary scene in 1967. Assigned to the school I did my student teaching in, I was a young, green, brand-spanking-new junior high school teacher. The school district was affluent, where the live-in-maids made more money than struggling teachers. All the kids were talking about a book–“the book,” the one next in line after their elementary favorite, Charlotte’s Web–Mrs. Frankweiler.
The story is about a brother and sister who feel unappreciated and unnoticed at home who run away to New York City and hide out/”take up residence” in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. They sleep in a huge bed from the Renaissance; they bathe in a fountain in one area, and are intrigued by the current mystery that they read about in discarded New York Times newspapers. Is the little angel statue acquired for only $250.00 really something made by Michelangelo, which would make it the “bargain of the century” or is there some way to determine whether it was made by one of his apprentices or just a “nobody”? Claudia, the “brains of the outfit,” which all older sisters must be, takes on solving this puzzle.
The strategy for running away and their escapades in New York are carefully planned by Claudia and financed by the penny-pinching Jaime, her younger brother. He often nixes Claudia’s elaborate schemes, and lends the practical advice to them which is perhaps what allows the kids to live in New York for a whole week. The dialogue and give-and-take, back-and-forth discussions/arguments between the two show not only their sibling rivalry, but the deep loyalty and love they feel for each other. The children are clever and outwit all the adults (naturally). Mrs. Frankweiler provides even more humor as she treats the children as adults. She is the quirky, elderly (and, yes, lonely) rich, sharp-minded grandmother every kid dreams of.
The whole book is a kid’s dream, and Konisburg, the author, certainly captures the kid’s mindset and view of looking at the world and bustling New York City. It is a fun, enlightening, although a bit out-dated adventure-“read” that kids loved back then, and grandmothers’ delight to enjoy and share with their grandkids.