1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Running Away Pays)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

This mildly entertaining Newbery entry tells the story of the Kincaid children, who run away from their suburban home to live in the Met. They figure out how to avoid detection and manage to meet all their basic needs. While they’re living in the Museum, Claudia becomes obsessed with the recently acquired Angel statue, particularly in ascertaining whether Michelangelo created the piece. This eventually leads her to the title character, wealthy Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the woman from whom the Angel was purchased. Claudia and Jamie visit Mrs. Frankweiler, who offers to exchange authentication information for full details of the children’s adventures. Instead of simply handing the children details, however, the old lady gives them an hour to find the file in her filing system. The children are successful, and Mrs. Frankweiler deeds the sketch and paper that authenticate the statue to the children. They, in turn, ‘adopt’ her, and make a pact between themselves to come back and visit.

Although much of the book was tedious for me, as an adult reader, the last few chapters and the ending left me with a smile. I love how canny Mrs. Frankweiler made the children work hard for information rather than just giving it to them (I’m an archivist and librarian, so, yeah). Her ability to discern the motives of the children on only a short acquaintance was remarkable, and it was touching to see how well she and Claudia matched. I was less impressed with the earlier portions of the books. While the canniness of the children’s plan, and the mechanics of their daily life, were interesting as facts, the writing style didn’t inspire me to care about them. Since the book is narrated by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, there are frequent textual interruptions in which she adds notes to her solicitor. With the reader not “meeting” that character until late in the book, the interjections truly were interruptions that broke the flow of the story for me.

As Sally noted, though, the adventures of the children would likely have appealed to me greatly as a child, considering that I loved stories like the Boxcar Children. I even vaguely remember picking this up while in elementary school, though I don’t think I ever made it past the first few pages. This Newbery entry isn’t memorable from an adult perspective – I’ll honestly be happy if I never have to read it again – but could be a decent choice for a kid in middle to late elementary school, particularly one who enjoys adventure or art.

For those of you who have the opportunity to visit the Met in person, the museum has created a companion guide to be used with this title. You can find it here. Spoiler alert: they never acquired an angel statue by Michelangelo. Even if you don’t live close to the Met, many of the items with which Claudia was enamored can be seen in other collections (four-poster beds, Egyptian cat statues, etc). This would make an excellent “scavenger hunt” activity, where the reader pre-selects a number of items mentioned in the book, then has to find the closest approximation in whatever museum is accessible.

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