Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 590
Elaine Lobl Konigsburg (KUH-nihgs-burg) has been recognized as a distinguished author of children’s literature since the publication of her first two novels in 1967, after her children began attending school. Although she thoroughly enjoyed reading even as a child, the young Elaine Lobl never considered becoming a writer. She grew up in small mill towns in Pennsylvania, where little emphasis was placed on the arts or higher education. However, as the valedictorian of her class, she planned to fund her college expenses by working. Having graduated from high school, she took a job for a year as a bookkeeper. At this time she met the man she eventually married, David Konigsburg. The following year she attended Carnegie Mellon University as a chemistry major.
After graduation and marriage, Konigsburg lived for several years in Florida, where she worked as a science teacher in a private girls’ school, an experience that provided her with thematic ideas that later emerged in her writing. She realized that affluence alone does little to resolve the emerging problems children experience in establishing themselves as individuals. She left teaching in 1955 to become a full-time mother.
After her family moved to New York and her children enrolled in school, Konigsburg decided to develop her talents as writer and illustrator. She targeted the middle-age child, employing her own children as models for illustrations and as critics of the text. In this process, Konigsburg gave creativity full rein, producing witty and entertaining characters with unusual perspectives.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Konigsburg’s first Newbery Award-winning book, features a girl and her younger brother who run away from home to the unlikely destination of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their temporary residence in the museum continues until the girl finds the sense of personal fulfillment she is seeking. In another book published the same year, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, Konigsburg described a secret alliance between two girls, one of whom poses as a witch in order to confound the other. The work was named a Newbery Honor Book, making Konigsburg the first author to receive two Newbery awards the same year.
Konigsburg’s interest in history led her to use medieval times as settings for two works. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver is based on the life of Eleanor of Aquitane, and The Second Mrs. Giaconda investigates a possible identity of the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Mona Lisa. Although her subsequent books feature contemporary settings, her characters continue in similar thematic roles, struggling to find acceptance and at the same time develop individuality.
Konigsburg won her third Newbery Medal for The View from Saturday, which features a four-member quiz bowl team of children coached by a paraplegic teacher. “The Souls” attend Epiphany Middle School and are the first of their grade level to win a championship. The plot includes such diverse items as the distress resulting from divorce, the importance of saving newly hatched turtles, and the cultural enrichment to society offered by immigrants. As in Konigsburg’s previous books, the work is an imaginative mix of humor, intrigue, friendship, and coincidence.
Over the years, a number of Konigsburg’s works have been adapted for film, recording, and television. She has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from the University of North Florida. Recognizing the length of time that had elapsed between her two Newbery Medal awards, Konigsburg reflected that the needs of children remain unchanged, citing their desire to be accepted while remaining themselves.