Raise your hand if you like art. Yes? Good. Raise your hand if you like adventure. Excellent. Now raise your hand if you like books. Spectacular! As it happens, there is a book that can satisfy all of those things—From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. A blend of mystery, adventure, and a little history, From the Mixed-Up Files is instantly recognizable as a classic book for the ages.
The main character, Claudia, feels that her life is riddled with unfair treatment, such as having to constantly do chores for very little allowance. So she resolves to run away from home with her younger brother, Jamie, (mostly because of his transistor radio and all the money he’s saved up) on the Metro-North train and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a little while. She plans to learn as much as possible about the museum in the time that they will spend there. While hiding in the museum, Claudia and Jamie notice that people are swarming to see an angel sculpture. Claudia wonders why everybody is so excited about it, so she finds a New York Times and reads an article on the angel, which says that it is suspected to be by Michelangelo. She decides to solve the mystery of the statue’s origins, and in doing so will satisfy her real motive for running away: to have made a significant change in her life by the time she goes home.
The story is told as a series of letters written by a character who only appears at the end, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who is recording Claudia and Jamie’s tale in a letter to her lawyer, Saxonberg. Mrs. Frankweiler’s asides to Saxonberg are hilarious. Another aspect of the story I enjoyed is how relatable it is. Anyone with at least one sibling knows how incredibly exasperating they are at times (I myself have a little brother); however, on occasion, you are glad to have them around. From the Mixed-Up Files captures this relationship perfectly, and subtly encourages siblings to get along more by focusing on the positives. Another way the author creates a sense of relatability is by describing the many frustrations children have in life (Claudia’s “injustices”) and also our desire for adventure and excitement. I have always wanted something really exciting like a grand adventure or mystery to happen to me, although this wish has unfortunately not yet been granted!
Stone Soup put this book on their list of classics, and I wholeheartedly agree with the decision. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler demonstrates all the defining qualities of a classic, and it deserves this honor. For those of you who haven’t read it, go read it. For those of you who have read it, good; now go read it again.