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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