Monday 27 February 2012

From the Mixed Up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler

I didn't know much about this book before I started reading it. Even the title seemed mystifying. I'm not sure that it was ever hugely popular in Australia. It certainly seems to have been in America- a Newbery winner, one of the 100 books that shaped the 20th century for  School Library Journal.

But I just fell in love with the premise of this book. Claudia Kincaid knew that she didn't want to run away, she wanted to run to something. The first paragraph is wonderful and pulled me in straight away.

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not just be running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

After spending a few days immersed in the museum, I felt like I too had lived there with Claudia and Jamie, and am very keen to visit. Until I get to New York again, I can visit it via the Mixed Up Files Issue of Museum Kids, which has a great article about E.L Konigsburg's inspirations for writing this story. It's extraordinary what the sight of one solitary piece of popcorn sitting on an antique chair in a museum can do. Claudia planned her escape all so meticulously, and was so sensible in her approach. Yet still childlike and naive at times. It was wonderful sharing her adventures in a pre-CCTV world. It's sad to think that a modern day Claudia wouldn't be able to repeat this wonderful escapade.

She's rebelling against the injustice of her terrible life. She has to empty the dishwasher and set the table on the same night, because she is the oldest girl, and yet her younger brothers get away with doing nothing again and again. She wants to teach her family a lesson in "Claudia appreciation". Claudia lived in quite an affluent world in 1967 Greenwich, even though she got the smallest pocket money of anyone in her class. And after all her parents only had a cleaning lady twice a week, and not the full time maid of her classmates.

I found it interesting that Claudia really gave no thought whatsoever to her family after she and Jamie left. There is occasional reference made to the newspaper articles about their disappearance, but Claudia didn't look for them, or see them when she was reading the New York Times to find out more about Angel, the mysterious statue possibly by Michelangelo that is causing a sensation at the time of her residence. Interesting too, that Claudia really pushed herself and Jamie to learn things during their adventure, they researched topics of interest and followed school groups to listen in to their tours. 

I had no idea what the title of the book meant, but I really liked our narrator, Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. A very clever use of an omniscient narrator. To have a rather crotchety old lady wearing pearls and lab coats tucked away in her house far from the action central to the story. She even waxes a bit philosophical at times. 

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little 
corner that keeps flapping around.

I ended up loving this book, for which I am very glad, as I really wanted to love it after I'd read the back cover. I read it in just a few days. Now I'm scanning my library's shelves for more books by Mrs Konigsburg. They all sound intriguing, but I think that The Second Mrs Gioconda sounds like it should be up next. 

1 comment:

sawcat said...

I haven't read this in ages, but I loved reading it in elementary school. I used to think I could recognize my brother's tortoise (which was named for Michelangelo the TMNT) because one of the markings on her shell looked a bit how it is described in the book.