From the Mixed-Up Files of Deb Elise

Mixed Up FilesI read books constantly, and always have. I remember feeling like a superstar because I was in first grade and devouring Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Clearly I had to be pretty darn cool to be reading Peter Hatcher’s fourth grade adventures when I was three whole grades below him.

(You can already see my concept of “pretty darn cool” wasn’t going to get me far once middle school hit.)

Like the character of Cordy in Deb Eleanor’s The Weird Sisters (not a spoiler, just a tantalizing preview), I would walk the halls with my nose buried in a book.  When I lived in Santa Monica, I became an expert at walking the streets while reading, miraculously avoiding cars and pedestrians.  To this day, I’ll go to restaurants, movies, pretty much anywhere by myself, as long as I have a book to keep me company.  And the bathroom?  Don’t get me started — in my house, “commode” is a synonym for “library.”

I say all this not just to establish my geek cred — I know here at the Deb Ball I’m in good company — but to establish how hard it is to choose just one life-changing book.  Do I go with one of my first loves, a Judy Blume book?  Maybe one of Paula Danziger’s stories about Marcy Lewis, who made me feel okay about being more lumpy and squat than any of my friends?  Do I grab Douglas Adams’ entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which has my favorite narrative voice ever?  Or how about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak?  I didn’t read it until I was well into my twenties, and it was such a revelation that it made me want to become a YA writer.  Then there’s basically every book by Anne Lamott.  Her fiction is practically flawless, Operating Instructions should be required reading for every mother, and Bird by Bird is the manual for how I strive to live my life.

Yet out of all the books I’ve read and loved, I think I have to go with the first book that really brought a world to life for me so vividly that I still daydream about living in its pages: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg.  In it, a precocious almost-12 year old and her little brother run away from home and live inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Claudia and Jamie blend in with school groups during the day, and learn about the museum.  They bathe in the fountains at night, using powdered soap and paper towels from the bathrooms.  They collect coins from the fountains, and use them at the automat to buy their meals.  They have the entire museum as their own secret lair, and even stumble into their own private mystery to solve.  The whole book is pretty much the ultimate smart-kid wish fulfillment fantasy.  I wanted to live it then, and I still think it would be phenomenal.

I bought a copy of the book recently for my daughter.  I think I need to go read it again for myself.  (After I finish Deb Eleanor’s ARC, of course).

~Deb Elise

12 Replies to “From the Mixed-Up Files of Deb Elise”

  1. OMG. I totally LOVE that book. I actually re-read it not so long ago, and it was just as glorious as I remember. I conflate it a little in my memory with Secrets of the Shopping Mall by Richard Peck, though that one is definitely creepier (and more materialistic).

    And like you (and Cordy), I am an anywhere, anytime reader. One of the greatest lessons my parents taught me was never to go anywhere without something to read, because you never know.

    1. I don’t know Secrets of the Shopping Mall by Richard Peck. Living in the suburbs, I always thought it would be easier to run away to the mall than the Met… but the Met was way cooler.

      As for books, even with the iPad and iBooks, I still like carrying an actual book. It’s just better.

  2. I loved that book too. I read to my son’s kindergarten class once a week and when his teacher suggested a chapter book, that one came to mind but I was worried it might be a drop too advanced and that then they wouldn’t love it as much as they could/will next year or the year after. So we’re reading Chocolate Fever instead. But I was JUST TALKING about this book and how awesome it is. And Eleanor, good to hear that I’ll probably still love it on the reread with my kids.

    1. I was speaking to a bunch of 5th graders the other day, and sadly, only a few of them knew the book! The librarian said E.L. Konigsburg’s other books are just as great (I’ve never read them), so she gave me a stack. I’ll report back on what I think 🙂

  3. Oh. My. God.

    I read “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” in fourth grade and long ago forgot the name of it. I’ve tried several times to figure it out, but all I could remember was the detail about the brother and sister running away from home and living in the museum. It’s tough to track down the name of a book based solely on that, so thank you for finally putting my mind to rest. I’m going to go order that book now.


  4. I was the same super cool kid you were, Elise. I remember sitting on an airplane with my parents and reading something, looking at the back of the book and saying, “this book says it is a 7th grade reading level and I’m only in 2nd grade!”

  5. I loved this book!! I heard it for the first time in third grade, when my (wonderful) teacher read it to the class in 15-minute increments after lunch. After the first chapter I went home and asked my mother to buy it for me – and I read the whole thing in two days. I didn’t want to wait to hear more! When my son was seven, I read it to him and he loved it as much as I did.

    Thanks for reminding me about this one! I think I will start reading it to my niece ASAP

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