On a recent in person trip to the library (a luxury in these pandemic times) I scoured the kiddo section looking for things that might appeal to my 11 year old. He wasn’t present, so I was casting a wide net about what would pique his interest. (I average one winning selection for about every 5 mehs, so it’s a bit of a numbers game). My eyes landed on this book, and I was instantly transported back to my youth. I couldn’t have told you what it was about, but I knew somewhere deep down that I had loved this book. I grabbed it and added it to the stack. I wish I could tell you this was a story of victory and that he loved it too, but alas, it was not meant to be.
This one fell into the meh category for him and I don’t think he even read it but I decided to revisit this classic and was so glad I did. 2017 marked the 50th (!) anniversary of this Newbery medal winner and though some of it is dated, namely the cost of breakfast in New York City, the tale of running away, intrigue and the fascinating Mrs. Basil still captures the innocence and adventure of youth.
Claudia Kincaid is, as the kids say today, over it. She is tired of being the responsible older sister and for the same old same old of her quiet suburban life so she decides to run away: this isn’t a fit of rage or even defiance, she just craves something new, something different. She thoughtfully brings her younger brother (as a confidant and benefactor) and they set out for the big city of New York, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. (And I mean, was there anything more appealing as a kid then the thought of being to sleep overnight in a museum?? Not for me, that’s for sure). While there they work to uncover the mystery of a statue, rumored to be a forgotten Michelangelo and eventually rendezvous with the cavalier old woman who sold it for a pittance.
The story is written in a way to make the children (and reader) feel safe. There are no close calls with ne’er do wells, just Claudia wrestling with the confines of youth. Like Claudia, I had a fairly safe childhood in a small town, so I can see why I related to this book, this quest for adventure (but in my case, from the confines of a book) and the desire to be different in a place where everyone seemed the same. I’m happy to look back now and see ways that I’ve broken the mold a bit and hope that the young Claudia in me would be pleased with where I’ve ended up.
I so enjoyed this departure from adult books that I’m thinking of revisiting other classics, likely the Cynthia Voigt series I have on the shelf (The Tillerman series): since right now in the pandemic thinking of the future is tiresome I’ll spend a little more time in the past.