This book might possibly be the longest book title with longest author name that I have ever read! This is ironic as it is probably one of the shortest books that I will read this year it being a kids’ book really. But my feeling about books is pretty liberal as I like to read whatever appeals, regardless of its intended audience and such was the case with this.
I had previously read a book by E.L. Konigsburg which was really good, called The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place so this book had that in its favour as well as being a Newbury Medal Winner and so its fate was sealed.
It tells the story of Claudia Kincaid, the eldest of four children who is finding that her life at home is monotonous and she feels like she is being taken for granted, having to do chores and look after her smaller siblings. It is not what she envisions for herself and so, she decides to have an adventure and persuades her younger brother, Jamie to join her in this as he is the brother that she feels will be the most use to her and may have the most money.
Claudia’s plan is to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, just up the road from where she lives in Greenwich. Once she suggests her proposal to Jamie, he is keen and so off they go on their adventure.
What happens to them is told by Konigsburg in a charming story about children’s resourcefulness in the face of necessity. They need to remain secret but they also need to be clean and wash their clothes and eat and this takes some planning and some ingenuity. Luckily, Claudia is a good planner and an intelligent girl who wants this adventure to be a success and with Jamie’s financial good sense, they manage to remain undiscovered at the museum as well as take care of themselves on a day-to-day basis. They show remarkable maturity and awareness and it is fun to follow their thought processes and daily hurdles.
When a beautiful statue of an angel is exhibited at the museum whilst they are staying there, it excites Claudia’s curiosity and the children embark on a quest to discover if it is a Michelangelo original by visiting the library independently in New York and researching the painter/sculptor, his works and his methods.
And what about the title of the book? It is Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler who is our narrator and it is at the beginning of the book that we are introduced to her as she is writing a letter to her lawyer, requesting a change to her will. Her tone is abrupt and a little scathing of him and we don’t get a favourable first impression of her as a person but apart from minor asides throughout the text, as the children’s story is being told through her letter, the narrative concerns itself mainly with a retelling of the antics of the children.
However, she becomes crucial to the story as it develops and is integral to the children’s need to discover if the statue of the angel is a legitimate Michelangelo original. And that is the origin of the title of the book as it is Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler’s mixed-up files that may be able to reveal the secret.
This book was written in 1967 and the edition that I am reading is an anniversary release to commemorate E. L. Konigsburg’s enduring appeal. And I did enjoy it and I know that I would have enjoyed it too if I had read it when I was 11, which I think is the age group thereabouts for which the book is intended. As a kid, reading books about other kids having adventures whether it’s Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or more recently, Harry Potter or Zac Power is a good thing as it gives you, as a child, an idea of what could be possible, of virtually placing yourself into situations along with the lead character and thinking about what you would do, whether it’s spending a night at the museum or solving mysteries or being a student at a magical school with an evil nemesis or fighting international enemies as a child spy.
I liked entering a museum at night and experiencing it with Claudia and Jamie. I’m not sure that it is something that I would have been able to do at their age without being creeped out but entering that imaginary world and imagining it from the safety of your own conjured images was fun. And that was as an adult.
This book comes full circle and we understand Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’s role more clearly at the end of the narrative and Konigsburg provides a nice twist in the telling as all good storytellers do.
What is important to note is that despite its age, this book still felt fresh and still has something to offer to the modern junior reader. I will certainly get my 10 year old to read it and hopefully, excite his imagination about museums and Renaissance artists. I just hope that his spirit of adventure doesn’t extend to running away to spend the night at a museum without me.