Adventures in a Museum: A “Boring” Children’s Book

Do you remember reading this book as a child? Or being forced to read it? It is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) by E. L. Konigsburg, and while it sounds boring, it isn’t.

I recently reread it with my daughter. I had to read it to her, because although she had received this as a gift from one of her über cool aunties, she refused to read it. It seemed “boring.” I assured her it was not. After many conversations like this—which ended without her taking any action toward reading the darn thing—I finally just started reading it to her when she was sick. She couldn’t escape, and after the first two chapters, she was hooked.

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A few days ago, before we had finished it, my former nanny’s little sister, a girl of 12, came over to visit my four-year-old. They have become good friends, at least in my four-year-old’s eyes. The 12-year-old saw our copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler on our coffee table, and immediately said, “Is Olivia reading that? It’s such a good book.” I went on to tell her about how I had to force Olivia to read it with me. She said, “Yeah, my dad had to convince me to read it, too.” But she ended up loving it as well.

It is about a brother and sister, Jamie and Claudia Kincaid, who run away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The reason why isn’t quite clear even to them, except that Claudia wants to experience “something” and she wants to “change.” The children spend about a week hiding in the museum by night, and mingling with museum patrons by day. They sleep in one of the old fancy beds on display, and hide in bathroom stalls during closing time. They also bathe in the museum’s fountain, where they scoop up money to continue to be able to buy food.

What makes the story intriguing, beyond the adventure, is the museum’s new statue of an angel, purportedly by Michelangelo. The museum is trying to authenticate the statue, and the children attempt to help by doing their own investigations.

In the end, the children learn more about the statue from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who once owned the statue, than the museum does. They also take a liking to her and plan to adopt her as their “grandmother.” She makes sure they get home safely, after interviewing them about their adventures in the museum.

It is a lovely book, one about everyday children that should appeal to young readers. The book also has its instructive and educational moments, making it a sure favorite among adults as well. I guess that part of it is what prompted me to “force” it on my daughter. I’m glad I did because she liked it. I liked revisiting it. This is one of those books that will forever remind me of the good parts of my childhood.

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39 thoughts on “Adventures in a Museum: A “Boring” Children’s Book

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  1. I have never read this, but I bought it for my own kids, because, I thought, who wouldn’t want to read about children running away and hiding out at a museum? Well, my kids don’t. I haven’t been able to convince anyone here to read it yet. I just might have to wait until they are sick, like you did.

  2. I LOVE this book! E.L. Konigsburg captures the mystery and magic of childhood, the world we lived in before dull adult realities set in. It’s an otherworldly book that’s set in our world, which is quite a feat to accomplish. Lovely post!

  3. I read this when I was a kid and I loved it. Luckily, no one had to push it on me. I remember picking it up and reading the summary and deciding I had to read it since it was about a museum.

  4. I loved this book when I was a kid, and to this day I want to live in the Met. I just read another of Konigsburg’s books, The Second Mrs. Giaconda, and I love it too. It’s very spare, and only says what needs to be said to further the story. But my step-daughter gave it to me 15 years ago when she was just a kid, and it’s taken me this long to pick it up. I shouldn’t have waited so long.

  5. It’s funny – my third and fourth grade teacher used to read aloud right after lunch. We could engage in other activities while she read, but had to remain quiet. I remember this, “the Westing Game”, “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”, and a few other classics I might not otherwise have read, but thoroughly enjoyed. I tried to convince my kids to read them to no avail… Reading aloud is a great idea.

    If you’ve never read Dodie Smith’s “The Hundred and One Dalmations”, I recommend it as well… It is decidedly different from the Disney versions, which lost a great deal of charm.

  6. I haven’t thought about this book in many many years — but it was such a favorite of mine when I was young! Thank you for the reminder of its wonderfulness.

  7. This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. A couple years ago I bought a copy for my kids, but they won’t read it. Then again, they won’t read most of the books on the shelves. Sigh.

      1. Only two of them are at the age I could do that, but I doubt my 4yo would understand the book (or sit still long enough). My almost 9yo might listen. The other three are 12, 13 and 14–long past reading to.

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