Friday, May 17, 2013

Fiction Friday (E.L. Konigsburg Edition)

“Before you can be anything, you have to be yourself.”
E.L. Konigsburg

Last month, the children's book world lost one it's greatest voices. E.L. Konigsburg entertained and inspired not just one generation of children, but many. I still remember my third grade teacher Ms. Cutts reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to us and how mesmerized I was by the story. After hearing of her passing, I plucked that book from my shelves and re-read it for the first time since and it still captivated me. Though the storyteller may be gone, the stories live forever in the imaginations of those who read them.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

When Claudia decides to run away from her Connecticut home, she realizes she loves the comforts of her suburban life far too much to simply live on the streets. Luckily, she's very good at making plans and hatches a scheme to not simply run away to New York City, but to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Due to his thriftiness, and abundance of savings in his piggy bank, she decides to take her little brother along with her and what ensues is an adventure of self-discovery.

One of the great joys of this novel is simply the idea of being in a museum after everyone has left. As a child, we all wonder what it would be like to live in places such as these and this story captures the excitement of it perfectly. It's wonderful seeing these resourceful children avoid getting caught.

In addition to the pure adventure involved in their running away, this is also a story about family life. The relationship between the siblings is pitch perfect. Sometimes they argue, sometimes they get frustrated with each other, but they always manage to help the other when their help is truly needed. All of this plays into the larger quest of the story, Claudia's longing to be somewhat different and changed. It's not exactly a coming-of-age story, but a story about that first moment when one feels childhood slipping away and the confusing feelings involved in that time of life. For Claudia, these emotions become wrapped up in solving the mystery of a statue recently acquired by the museum. As the public speculates as to whether or not this statue was carved by Michelangelo, she is determined to find out definitively, and once she does, she knows she can return home because in some tiny way, she will be different.

Reading this story brought back so many memories of what it was like to be that age, ready to conquer the world, but not yet able to quite understand it. Some of the dialogue feels dated, and certainly the value of the dollar is far different, but none of that detracts from the story. The emotions are still honest and the mystery is as engaging as ever. Truly a classic and the kind of book that would never get published today because of concerns over the kids running away.

Also, read my review of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, And Me, Elizabeth here.

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