Saturday, April 3, 2010

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

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

I can't believe I never read this book. Yes, it was on numerous summer reading lists, but I always read something else instead. I can't pinpoint why, but the description just wasn't appealing to me at all. Claudia decides to run away from home (Connecticut) and takes her little brother Jamie with her to live in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Perhaps I thought it would be too teacher-y with the museum and all. Kids can smell when learning is snuck into any book and they run far away from being tricked into anything good for them. That's the only explanation I can think of.

So I was denied this sharp and fun book, which was appropriate punishment. I do think I'd have enjoyed this book more as a child (as much as I'm loving reading and rereading all these MR and YA books, I have trouble reading getting immersed in any of them.) But I did really like it. Claudia is stubborn, an organized planner, and mostly sensible. Jamie is a good foil (which is the main reason she picked him, as she knew they'd balance each other's weaknesses. Smart kid.) I especially loved (and was surprised by) the format, which is that the whole book is a letter written by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to her lawyer explaining the circumstances behind her wanting to change her will. Her asides to him throughout regarding his stuffy and uptight personality were hilarious, and she does state upfront that she may be not quoting conversations directly, but she did get the story directly from both Claudia and Jamie, so she believes it's accurate. I think this is a little young to teach children about unreliable narrators, but Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler doesn't seem to be unreliable. I wasn't expecting the subplot about the statue that Claudia and Jamie try to determine if its provenance is accurately Michelangelo. I was impressed with the information about provenance that was explained in the book. One reason books like this are loved by kids and stand the test of time is that they don't talk down to their readers. They fully expect that the information will be understood and there's no reason to treat children like babies.

Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to live in the museum? (Aside from the hiding out from guards and staff part.) Being in a museum alone, after dark, is such a cool situation that I do envy. Claudia may have some issues coming up in her teenage years with her obstinancy and her determination to be right, but she'll get through it and with her organization, persistence, and follow-through, she'll go far in life. Jamie might have a wonderful career as a professional gambler. What a fun read.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.


Julie P. said...

I loved this book both as a kid and an adult! I was surprised by how much I remembered, and I always thought it would so cool to collect money from the fountain!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

Me too! I still never pass a fountain without thinking about using the money to live in a museum. I loved that book.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

This was one of my favorite books as a kid. Such vivid memories! I was so happy to share it again with my kids! We enjoyed the movie, too.