“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place,
but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.”
—E. L. Konigsburg
I stopped and caught myself when I heard that E.L. Konigsburg passed away last Friday. It hurt. But almost immediately, that gave way to the familiar, deep-in happiness I always feel when I think of her. Oh, I loved her books when I was growing up!
Like Elizabeth, I had a pet frog so I was thrilled by the schemes and magic in Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. And, I have to point to Konigsburg’s tale of Eleanor of Acquitane, A Proud Taste for Scarlett and Miniver, for sparking my interest in biographies and historical fiction. (Cannot wait for the next Hilary Mantel!)
But most of all, I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—the story of Claudia and her little brother Jamie, who run away to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Claudia is the reluctant adventurer. “Secrets are the kind of adventure she needs. Secrets are safe, and they do much to make you different. On the inside where it counts.”
Still, ‘the Mixed-Up Files’ had just enough adventure (and mystery) to keep me hooked, but there was also the research and library angle, which especially appealed to a bookworm like me. I’ve read the book countless times and have given it to almost every kid I know. After they read it (and are in on the secret), it’s especially fun to take a child to the Metropolitan Museum to see the “Mixed-Up” haunts.
Claudia and Jamie spent a lot of time in the Egyptian galleries and the very bronze cat they admired is still in a case there. There are several period bedrooms on display, though the exact bed that the kids slept in has been dismantled. Likewise, the fountain they bathed in is gone, though there are several others in the Charles Engelhard Court. Finally, in a case of life imitating art—well, art imitating fiction—the Met recently put on display a small marble statue called the ‘Young Archer’ which may or may not have been carved by Michelangelo.
In fact, so many children ask about the book, that the museum has put out a special “Mixed-up Files” guide to their collection. (As opposed to the American Museum of Natural History, which pretty much has nothing from Night at the Museum. #disappointedkids)
In addition to being a great storyteller, Konigsburg wrote beautifully. When Elizabeth looks out at spring from her window she finds, “new green was all over … green so new that it was kissing yellow.” The author won two Newbery Medals and several other literary citations.
Konigsburg would often tell her readers, “before you can be anything, you have to be yourself. That’s the hardest thing to find.” Most of her novels were about self-discovery and that time in life when children start to define themselves with their actions and choices.
I like to think of E.L. Konigsburg starting off like the out-of-place, questioning Claudia and in her later years resembling the accomplished Mrs Frankweiler, smiling with her secret. I’m so grateful to Konigsburg, and I am sad that she is gone. But mostly, when I think of her, I feel that happiness and excitement which she so perfectly described, and I can still it flapping around a little.