From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
E. L. Konigsburg
Newbery Medal

The View From Saturday
E. L. Konigsburg
Newbery Medal

Recently, I read these two books for the first time. I know, I know…. Having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s, there is no good reason for how I managed to miss Mixed-Up Files. I mean, really. I lay that blame firmly on the shoulders of my school teachers! I’ve always felt like everyone was in some secret club–my peers as grown-ups talk about Mixed-Up Files with the kind of nostalgia and delight they shower on Wrinkle in Time or even Narnia. View From Saturday didn’t appear until I was graduating from college–that blame I lay solely on my children’s literature professors who were teaching me in graduate school a few years later!

It’s interesting to read an author’s works in close succession when the works in question were written 30 years apart (or, at least, published 30 years apart). There are some definite similarities, and I hope to read some of Konigsburg’s other works (after all, any given Newbery committee is still made up of people and is comparing Newbery winners to other works of that same publication year–an individual author may actually have a better book out that just didn’t happen to catch the fancy of that particular year’s committee, or it may have been up against even stiffer competition!).

At any rate, Mixed-Up Files is about two kids who run away to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and eventually make the acquaintance of one Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. View From Saturday is about 4 unlikely friends in the sixth-grade, their handicapped teacher, and the winning Academic Bowl team they form. So, why all the fuss? Why do kids today still enjoy these books? On the surface, they don’t sound terribly exciting, do they?

Intelligence: Konigsburg writes with intelligence, and she writes to intelligent readers. This is hard to explain, but it may help to say that each of these books is short (around 150 pages), yet they communicate profound ideas.

Character Development: Konigsburg can create some characters, I tell you. Starting with the title character of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and moving right through her entire cast lists, she manages to convey exactly who these people are in a way that makes them both unique as well as immediately familiar. I know people like this. Or, even better, I am that person–or, at least, I’ve had those same thoughts.

There are other worthwhile features to Konigsburg’s writing, but those two traits really jump out at me. Give one of these books a try if you’ve missed them. If you have a middle grades reader in the house (4th grade and up), toss one over and watch the book delight a new generation.

Things to Note/Discuss

  • Konigsburg manages to pack a punch in some of her quotations. Try discussing one of the quotations below–do you agree with them? Why or why not? What makes them significant?
  • “I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.” (Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
  • “Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.” (Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
  • “Inside me there was a lot of best friendship that no one but Ginger [the dog] was using.” (Nadia–View)
  • “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not have done for Mrs. Eva Marie Olinski what the kindness of four sixth-grade souls had.” (View)