Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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

One of my all-time favorites!  My 5th grade teacher read this to us after lunch, a chapter a day, and I hung on every word.  Today, reading it my own students, I am just as entertained by the adventures of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, just as fascinated by the highly intelligent, acerbic Mrs. Frankweiler, and my students are just as scandalized as my classmates and I were by the picture of Claudia and Jamie bathing in the fountain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

E.L. Konigsburg is a master storyteller.  Go ahead and click the link and read her profile - normally I don't use Wikipedia, but it seems to have the most info about this interesting writer.  She has a way of creating characters who are real to the children who read them.  She crafts this tale as a letter to her attorney, Saxonberg, to explain the changes she is requesting in her will.

Claudia Kincaid is a 12-year old girl who is sick and tired of being ordinary, tired of having to do "everything" at home.  She decides to run away from home to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia Appreciation.

Her plan is amazingly well thought out and illustrates Claudia's intelligence quite clearly.  She chooses her younger brother Jamie to be her companion for some interesting reasons.  Jamie agrees under the misconception that they will be running away in the traditional sense - wandering outdoors with their knapsacks on their backs, building campfires and sleeping under the stars.  Boy, is he in for a surprise.  Claudia has planned for them to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Unfortunately for Jamie, he didn't think to ask where they were going until AFTER they left home :)

The children have an ingenious plan that allows them to stash their belongings and sleep in the Met, a strategy that would never work in today's world, which makes it all the more interesting to today's students.  While there, they have the opportunity to view the museum's newest acquisition, a sculpture of an angel, which is an auction purchase that came from the art collection of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  The sculptor's identity is unknown but some experts believe it to be the work of the great Michaelangelo.  Claudia is entranced by the beautiful sculpture and sets out to discover if Michaelangelo is indeed the sculptor.

As she and Jamie investigate the mystery of Angel, they hit dead end after dead end and find themselves low on cash.  Disheartened, Claudia agrees that they must go home.  As they prepare to buy their bus tickets home, Claudia suddenly decides they must pay a visit to the reclusive Mrs. Frankweiler, convinced that she is their last shot at finding the answer.

Mrs. Frankweiler is a crafty old gal and figures out that they are the runaways she has been reading about in the newspaper.  She wants information, they want information - hmmm.  She manages to get the information she needs from Jamie without much effort, but still offers them some hope at getting the information they came for.  She sets them loose in her file room, and this brings us to the name of the book.  The kids have to figure out her filing system in order to find out if Michaelangelo is the sculptor - and they have a time limit. 

Claudia is a clever girl and figures it out.  Mrs. Frankweiler agrees to leave the proof to them in her will IF they promise not to ever tell anyone else. 

I won't be a spoiler and tell you the fun reveal at the end of the story, but let me encourage you to read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, with or without a youngster.  The characters are well-developed, the plot is intriguing and engaging, and the setting provides lots of opportunities to talk about the good old days.

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