From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg was first published in 1967. Since then, a few changes have been made at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Admission is no longer free, and the fountain in which the Kincaid children bathe has been removed. Museum staff has been asked so many questions about this novel that they devoted an entire issue of their publication MuseumKids to it; it is commonly referred to as the “Mixed-Up Files Issue.” The novel won the Newbery Medal in 1968 and, though he has been asked repeatedly, the author says he will never write a sequel.
Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler sends a file to her lawyer, Saxonberg. This file contains the following story, since he will not pay close enough attention to it when he is with her; he is too busy thinking about his grandchildren and other things. It also contains some changes to her will, which she is sure he will understand once he reads the file, which contains all the pieces of this story, put together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Claudia Kincaid is not fond of messy or uncomfortable things, so when she decides to run away she looks for someplace neat and comfortable and beautiful—such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She has saved enough money for herself and one other person to go with her, and she chooses Jamie, the second youngest of her three brothers. He is generally quiet, sometimes good for a laugh, and he saves his money. She does not tell Jamie about her plan until she has enough set aside to make her plan a reality, which takes long enough that she almost forgets why she is leaving. She is leaving because, as the oldest, she is being treated unfairly. She has to unload the dishwasher and set the table for dinner—on the same night—while her brothers do nothing. Claudia is leaving because of the injustice and the monotony. Her life is so predictable, and she is tired of being the straight-A student who is stuck in the same old routine every night. After saving her allowance for more than three weeks, twelve-year- old Claudia and nine-year-old Jamie will run away by taking a train into the city. Since she plans on coming home again after her family has developed some “Claudia appreciation,” she also has to save money for their return trip train fare. New York City is not so very far away; in fact, her father commutes from their home in Greenwich to the city every day. The crimes committed against Claudia certainly warrant a longer trip, but she loves the city and knows it is a good place to hide. She has planned well and sacrificed buying her favorite hot fudge sundaes so they will have enough money for their trip.
One Saturday Claudia is doing a chore she hates—emptying all the trash cans in the house—but discovers a train ticket with one ride left on it which the cleaning lady must have thrown away as trash. Because she and Jamie are young enough to ride for half fare, they will not have to purchase tickets to travel. Claudia decides they will leave on Wednesday and asks Jamie to sit by her on the bus so she can tell him about her plan. He is not thrilled at the summons and asks why she cannot pick on one of her other brothers. After she shares her plan, though, he appreciates being the chosen one.
Claudia tells him they are leaving on Wednesday because it is music lesson day. Not only can they pack their clothes in their book bags, but she can use her violin case and Jamie can use his trumpet case. When she asks Jamie how much money he has, he is hesitant to answer. When he finally tells her he has $24.43, Claudia knows she chose the right brother (for she only has $4.18). She also discovers the running card game Jamie and his friend have on the bus is actually her brother’s primary means of income—because he cheats. Claudia says she will give him a paper filled with all the details of their trip, which he must destroy after reading.
Jamie finds his detailed list on Tuesday night and carries out Claudia’s instructions exactly. The next morning they get on the bus as planned, and they sit in the back seat. When the bus arrives at school, Jamie and Claudia duck down and try to go unnoticed by both the kids and the driver. Their plan works, and soon the bus is traveling back to the bus parking lot. Once the driver leaves, the stowaways prepare to leave the bus and head for the train station. Claudia hears a terrible clanking sound, as if someone is walking in a chain mail suit. She turns around to look at Jamie for the first time and sees his pockets are so weighted down with pennies and nickels that his pants are riding low. They have their first row, and then Claudia remembers they must not keep acting as if they are still at home. When she tells him they must get on a train for the city so they can get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jamie is appalled at the “sissy” plan. He wants to at least hitchhike to the city, but Claudia tells him that is not safe. On their way to the station, Claudia mails a letter to her parents, telling them she and Jamie are leaving home and not to contact the FBI. On their twenty-eight mile ride, Claudia appoints Jamie treasurer and Jamie decides there is adventure enough to be had at the Museum. When they arrive in Manhattan, they are a team united, ready to face the challenges of the city.
Their destination is forty blocks away, and their first Manhattan argument occurs. Claudia wants to take a taxi, then settles for a bus ride costing twenty cents each; however, Jamie has final say over their (his) money, and they walk. He uses his compass to steer them on the proper course. The odd pair does not get noticed in the bustle and movement of the city. They arrive at the entrance, and a guard clicks his little machine when they enter. They never count how many leave, though, so the children are confident their plan will work. On any given Wednesday, Metropolitan Museum of Art has 26,000 visitors (a thousand of whom are school children) who visit its twenty acres of displays and space. With a quarter of a million visitors a week, surely two children can stay hidden in such a throng.
After they check their bags for the day, Claudia and Jamie eat downstairs at the snack bar; the food is expensive, though, and they are still hungry. For the rest of the day, the siblings plan for their first evening in the museum. Claudia wants to sleep in a bed, for she prefers things neat and clean; Jamie, on the other hand, likes things complicated and wants to find something more adventurous. They compromise on a bed Claudia finds—a bed in which some famous woman had been murdered. The plan to remain unnoticed by the guards at the end of the day is to go into a bathroom stall and stand on the toilet with the door unlatched but nearly closed. It works. After the museum is cloaked in darkness (about six o’clock at night), they find the bed and fall asleep quickly, despite their hunger.
Because they are not yet familiar with the guards’ morning routine, they get up early and stow their bags (but not all in one place, so they will have some of their belongings even if some of them are discovered). Jamie nearly gets caught in the bathroom, but he enjoys the danger. Both are hungry, so they leave the museum to find some cheaper food. When they re-enter, Claudia decides that they will learn everything about everything in this museum, one wing at a time. Jamie is not thrilled, but Claudia gives him first choice (thinking he will choose the Arms and Armor wing). In hopes of boring Claudia out of her plan, Jamie chooses the Italian Renaissance. They soon find themselves in a line with a thousand other people to see something important, though neither Claudia nor Jamie knows what it is. It is a small, marble, carved angel. The line moves quickly, which is just fine with Jamie; Claudia, however, is entranced by the beautiful statue and wants to know more about it and plans to check the New York Times the next day, since there was a reporter with a camera there today.
This wing is too crowded, so they go to the Egyptian wing and join a class of students listening to one of the museum guides. They are learning to be inconspicuous (much easier for Claudia than Jamie, who loves to stand out in a crowd) because they do not want to call any attention to themselves, so they join the fringes of this class. Jamie, of course, is the only one to ask a question at the end of the presentation. Claudia reminds him of what inconspicuous means.
The next day Claudia picks up (steals) a newspaper someone leaves behind at a table in the museum. She skips right to the article about the statue. It is called Angel, and it is thought to have been carved by Michelangelo. The museum acquired it for a mere $225 in a gallery auction. That gallery purchased it from the collection of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who bought it from an art dealer in Bologna, Italy, before World War II. The Frankweilers were a rich couple with no children; Mrs. Frankweiler still resides in the area. Whether the statue is eventually authenticated as Michelangelo’s or not, it is still a fine acquisition for the museum. The Kincaid siblings determine to find a way to authenticate this statue.
If Claudia had not been so focused on finding this article, she might have see a smaller article on the front page of the paper, announcing that two Kincaid children have been missing from their Greenwich, Connecticut, home since Wednesday. They try to get a better look at the angel, but the crowd is even bigger today and they barely catch a glimpse. Instead, they join another school tour in the American wing and learn all about colonial American arts and crafts.
After three days of such living, Claudia insists they must find a way to wash their dirty clothes. They stuff some of their soiled clothing in their pockets and wear the rest (as outer layers only) to the laundromat. Their white items are now a dismal grey, probably because of their red and navy socks, but at least they smell clean. Jamie wants to go to the television department at...
(The entire section is 4147 words.)