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...
(The entire section is 4147 words.)
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Anyone who has ever wanted to run away to escape the trials and injustices of family life will identify with Claudia, who chafes under the outrage of a small allowance and the responsibility of being the eldest child in a family with three younger boys. Anyone who likes adventure will admire the thoroughness and resourcefulness with which Claudia Kincaid plans and executes her escape from Greenwich, Connecticut, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Anyone who appreciates a mystery will be attracted to the enigma of Angel, which Claudia feels compelled to solve, even though it has baffled the museum experts. In short, for sheer entertainment value, this book has much to recommend it.
But its appeal goes beyond entertainment, for Konigsburg develops believable characters with whom young people can identify. Claudia, like many another bright eleven-year-old, feels unappreciated by her family. Tired of the arguments over television shows, weary of being responsible for her youngest brother, and basically upset because she is growing up on the inside but getting no recognition for it on the outside, Claudia has important reasons for getting away from it all. Her experience in the museum, which ultimately leads to a resolution of her problems, establishes her maturity. She learns about herself, and in her interactions with nine-year-old Jamie, whom she chooses to accompany her, she realizes the value and the pleasure one finds in teamwork, even...
(The entire section is 273 words.)