A John Newberry Medal Honor Book
The very first Konigsburg novel I have read was The View From Saturday, also a Gathering Books special book-of-the-month. After reading The Mixed Up Files, I begin to piece together and realize precisely why I love reading Konigsburg’s books so much – primarily because her characters are mostly gifted children – exceedingly smart but also very human.
The story revolves around two runaway children Claudia (a sixth grader who belongs in the Honors section) and her younger brother Jamie Kincaid (a third grader). No, they are not errant, disobedient, little juvenile gifted punks. Far from it. I bet you would be hard-pressed to find two overly-meticulous, bordering on the obsessive-compulsive, exceptionally disciplined two young stowaways anywhere, if at all.
Claudia, the mastermind, simply wanted to teach her parents “a lesson in Claudia appreciation” after being given way too many chores around the house and being responsible all the time for their youngest brother, Kevin. And over and above that, she loved the planning part – and making certain that she has it down to the littlest detail – hence, they weren’t even caught, though they did have a few minor close calls. And the fact that the planning had to be done with the utmost secrecy – she knows something that others don’t. And the fact that she has sufficient genius to carry everything out. With the help of course, of Mr. Pinchpenny, Jamie Kincaid himself, the appointed treasurer (by virtue of the fact that he has saved so much money, an astounding $24.43 – a huge amount for a boy who only has twenty-five cents for his allowance money).
The narrative is actually spoken using the voice of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler herself, an eccentric (but extremely wealthy), old woman who lives in a veritable palace. She was linked to the two bright children through the sculpture, Angel, that Mrs. F donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – the very place chosen by Claudia for her and her brother to “hide out in” – I am sure that she would hate the grammatical lapse in that – she is forever correcting her brother for his grammatical errors, transforming every little conversation to a lesson in language and syntax. Yes, the two kids chose a Museum for their hideout place. And they chose well, primarily because as Claudia pointed out they could still have a structured and scheduled day despite their being runaways. Yes, they still have lessons everyday. As Claudia pointed out,”they should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity they had to learn and to study. No other children in all the world since the world began had had such an opportunity.” Now who wouldn’t love such two Weird Kids.
While they had to make do with a few inconveniences (like not having a warm bath and having their clothes spinned out into a drab and gray bundle by the laundromat) they didn’t really feel too homesick and they justified it by saying they’ve been raised too well by their parents, that’s why. So it is essentially their parents’ fault that they have raised too well-trained and simply way too well-adjusted children for their own good. When Jamie was nearly caught one time by the janitor who asked him with some astonishment “Where did you come from?” – he sweetly replied “Mother always says that I came from Heaven” in his usual non-plussed, very polite manner. Well brought up children, indeed.
Claudia’s initial desire to be appreciated through her act of running away and being missed by her parents, gradually escalated into an adventure of a lifetime. And a quest for knowledge and truth which led her into the home of an equally strange old recluse in the person of Mrs. F. – which inevitably led her to the comforts of her own home, in style, onboard a Rolls Royce no less. What’s essential is that she found what she was looking for in the end, a quiet happiness borne out of knowing, out of solving a mystery that has baffled even the smartest of scientists and researchers. All through patient logic, her systematic and organized way of going about things, and her fiery passion to discover answers to her questions. And Konigsburg aptly describes the happiness that Claudia felt in this fashion:
“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.”
Highly recommended for children aged 8-13 (younger precocious readers could likewise enjoy this as well). Educators would also have a fun time teaching children about ‘grammar’ through Claudia’s voice. A good read as well for parents as they discuss ‘issues’ with their kids in the third-person.