From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a favorite book of mine as a child. But as I grew older I slowly forgot about the message of the story and only remembered the adventure. When I saw that it could be ordered for only a dollar as part of a larger Scholastic book order, I knew I had to get it for my 11 year old. It was delightful to find that she was as enchanted with the story as I was.
Claudia Kincaid was a fairly average 11 (nearly twelve) year old girl who wanted to run away. She was a good student who keenly felt the injustice of world. Being the oldest of four meant having more responsibilities than her younger siblings. She wanted an adventure but deep inside what she really wanted was a way to shake up her life and become something different than her current self. As the oldest of six, and also a good student, I had a lot of sympathy for Claudia.
Claudia hates inconvenience of any kind and prefers a more luxurious option whenever presented the choice. So she knew that normal running away was not for her and thus planned to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Living in Greenwich, the city was a short train ride away, which would be easy enough to manage, the difficult part was the finances of the whole operation. While Claudia was a spendthrift, her younger brother Jamie was a hoarder, so she convinced him to run away with her. The story is charming in detailing how much everything cost, as the Kincaid children were keenly aware of their dwindling money at every turn. My daughter was agog at the perceived cheapness of everything due to the book having been written in the 1960s.
Through ingenuity, Claudia and Jamie successfully infiltrate and begin living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And that is when Claudia finds the mystery that begins to consume her. The museum has just bought at auction an angel statue that was carved during the Italian Renaissance. Many clues indicate that Michelangelo was the artist who carved the statue but there is no proof. The statue originally belonged to wealthy philanthropist, and art collector, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler but if she knew who the artist was, she was staying silent. Claudia becomes obsessed with finding the truth about Angel. After exhausting all forms of research available to her, Claudia decides that she and Jamie must visit the reclusive Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (who is always referred to with her full name) and learn if she knows whether or not Michelangelo made Angel.
Intrigued by the children, Mrs. Frankweiler offers them a challenge. The truth of Angel’s origins is within her files (not only is she a collector of art, Mrs. Frankweiler is also a hoarder of information). If Claudia and Jamie promise to tell her how they successfully lived at the museum, she will let them have an hour to go through her files to find the one containing all of her information on Angel. This is where the “mixed-up files” part of the title comes in, as Angel is not filed under something as simple as “Michelangelo”. Upon succeeding, Claudia becomes filled with carrying the secret of Angel.
Returning with a secret is what she [Claudia] really wants. Angel had a secret and that made her exciting, important. Claudia doesn’t want adventure. She likes baths and feeling comfortable too much for that kind of thing. 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.
Holding up their end of the bargain, Claudia and Jamie recount everything that happened, from the initial planning to how they ended up at her door, and their story becomes another secret in Mrs. Frankweiler’s files. The whole book is actually Mrs. Frankweiler’s writing up of the Kincaid children’s adventure, and as such is presented in her voice.
I loved this book just as much this time around as thirty odd years ago. The adventure is as fun as I remembered and I liked the nuanced message that you can change yourself from the inside, without having to do something on the outside.
The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is an amazing story. I loved how different Claudia and Jamie were from each other, and how that made them a good pair. The author made it sound so easy to run away and stay in a museum. I wish it could really happen like that. In fact, it is so intriguing I am planning in my head where I could run away to. Probably won’t happen but it is nice to imagine. I loved the book and believe it will be inspiring to kids to get out in the world and see things. The moral of the story is important for all kids to know and learn. That there is an adventure in everything. You don’t need to do the biggest thing to have an adventure. The littlest thing can be a better adventure than something big. It’s just a fun story to read! I give it a 5 star rating.