One of my favorite childhood books is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. The prologue is a letter from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, addressed “To my lawyer, Saxonberg”, accompanied by a drawing of her writing at her office desk. It serves as the cover letter for the 162-page narrative, and provides background for changes to her last will and testament.
Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid decides to run away from her home in Greenwich, because she thinks her parents do not appreciate her. She takes refuge in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, with her brother Jamie. She chooses Jamie as her companion partly because he has saved all his money. With the help of an unused adult train fare card that she found in a wastebasket, Claudia finds a way to get to the museum for free using the commuter train and a very long walk.
Claudia and Jamie settle in at the Met: hiding in the restroom at closing time, as security staff check to see that all the patrons have departed; blending in with school groups on tour; bathing in the fountain, and using “wishing coins” for money; and sleep in an antique bed.
A new exhibit draws big crowds and fascinates the children: the marble statue of an angel, the sculptor unknown but suspected to be Michelangelo. It was purchased at auction, for only a few hundred dollars, from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a collector who recently closed her showcase Manhattan residence. The children spend the last of their money to travel to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and the story continues from there.
This novel appealed to me because of the adventures the brother and sister embarked on and the fun time they had at the museum. Also, I could identify with Claudia. She was the oldest child, both sets the table and empties the dishwasher, is a straight-A student and a critic of English grammar.
I remember on summer days curling up with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and my mother saying to me, “Lisa, get some fresh air. Go out and play.” But nothing could get me to budge from that book until I’d finished it.
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