Have you ever wanted to run away from home? And where would you go if you ran away? In E.L. Konigsburg’s classic children’s novel, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” the protagonist, twelve-year-old Claudia, feeling under-appreciated by her parents, decides to run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Claudia takes her younger brother Jamie along with her. After the initial fun of being away from home subsides, the two of them get caught up in solving a mystery—the unknown identity of the sculptor of a beautiful angel statue recently purchased from the collection of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a woman who will change the siblings’ lives dramatically.
“From the Mixed Up Files…” was one of my favorite novels as a kid over twenty-five years ago. I especially loved the idea of running away to live in an art museum—hiding from the guards at closing time, bathing in the fountain, having the whole place to myself at night and blending in with the visiting school tours during the day. This Newbery Award-winning novel has joined the rare company of books like “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” in remaining a perennial favorite for over fifty years. Its author, E.L. Konigsburg, is one of only six writers to win the Newbery Medal twice, first in 1968 and again in 1997. She also won a Newbery Honor medal (the runner-up prize) for her first novel, “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,” which is about two lonely girls, one black and one white, who become friends and pretend to be witches.
E.L. Konigsburg was born Elaine Lobl in 1930 and was a science teacher and a painter before she started writing (in the mornings, while her children were at school) in the early 1960s. The immediate success of her first two novels led to an illustrious career that lasted over forty years, in which she continued to give her novels seemingly strange and wordy titles, like “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver” and “T-Backs, T-Shirt, COAT, and Suit.” After delving into the world of art in “From the Mixed Up Files…,” Konigsburg went on to write “The Second Mrs. Giaconda,” a historical novel for children about how Leonardo Da Vinci came to paint the Mona Lisa.
In her books focused on young people, Konigsburg writes elegantly about thoughtful kids who are grappling with how to find their place within their families, their communities and the world at large. In an interview with Scholastic Teachers, she explained that “the essential problems” for kids “remain the same. The kids I write about are asking for the same things I wanted. They want two contradictory things. They want to be the same as everyone else, and they want to be different from everyone else. They want acceptance for both.”