Written by E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was published in 1967 and won the John Newbery Award in 1968.
Eleven-year-old Claudia tires of her mundane life and plans to run away from home to New York City and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From her three brothers, she selects nine-year-old Jamie as her partner. The two make a formidable team. Konigsburg tells us: "They complemented each other perfectly. She was cautious (about everything but money) and poor; he was adventurous (about everything but money) and rich."
Writers today can learn from how Konigsburg must have thought through each detail about the children running away and living undetected in a museum. Her meticulous planning informs Claudia's every move. Those concrete, plausible details bring their journey to life -- from hiding their clothes in instrument cases to avoiding the guards at closing by standing on toilets in bathroom stalls. (Oh, how I wanted to try that as a child!)
Those details also make the book resonate with readers. We can all imagine doing what Claudia and Jamie did. Their adventures are believable and timeless because they are so firmly rooted in reality.
The main plot, about whether Mrs. Frankweiler's angel sculpture is really Michelangelo's work, is still reasonably interesting after all these years. For me though, the real heart of the book is Claudia's journey -- what makes her leave home and what eventually brings her back.
Occasionally, Rose's Red Pen will revisit children's books to explore why they still resonate with readers and what writers can learn from them. If you have a favorite book to recommend, please tell me about it in the Comments or drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you.