Friday, July 22, 2016

Book review: "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"

I first heard of the book, "From  the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" somewhere around third grade. But it wasn't until I was well into my 50s that I read it for the first time, aloud, to my two kids.

I'd always had the impression that this was a fun, and funny, book. I mean "mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" sounds silly right off the bat, right? So I was surprised how serious the book is. Author E.L. Konigsburg uses the story about two kids who run away to live in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to make some serious points about growing up.

The premise seems rather kooky. A sister and brother run away from home to live at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. They avoid the guards by hiding in the bathrooms and manage to get locked in each night. I kept hoping for some "Night at the Museum"-type craziness to happen after hours, but the only thing that came close was when they bathed in the fountain at the darkened museum restaurant..

Instead, Claudia and Jamie find themselves looking into a mystery: Is a sculpture called Angel really the work of Michelangelo? Their investigation pushes the story ahead, and takes them eventually into, yes, the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Konigsburg does well developing the interaction of Claudia and Jamie and you can see them maturing in the story. Mrs. Frankweiler helps them understand the meaning of their quest.

Still, I don't know if the story is really interesting enough for young readers.  There's no real danger and the surprises are fairly mild. It sticks to a fairly narrow story line following the daily lives of Claudia and Jamie. And the character of Claudia, who is bossy and nitpicks her brother's grammar, rubbed my daughter the wrong way. She called Claudia "annoying."


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