The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


Classic Review -- From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

So I actually finished writing this review last week -- the first version of it at least. But when I hit publish, lovely Blogger decided to kick me off and subsequently lose my post.

WHHHAAAATTTT?????? (Needless to say, I wasn't happy.)

So it's taken me a few days to re-approach CKR and try to re-create what I'd already written. (I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS.)

But anyway, here goes:

If I had made a top 10 list of all-time favorite books as an elementary school kid, E.L. Konigsburg's From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler would rank in the All-Time Top 5, along with Harriet the Spy and Little Women.

Written in 1967, Frankweiler won the 1968 Newbery and made its author E.L. Konigsburg the only author to have a winning book AND an Newbery Honor book (Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth) in the same year -- a title no one has stolen from her as of this writing.

I've been wanting to read this with my kids for some time, but whether it was because they knew it was an "old" book or whether the cover/concept/title just didn't grab them, I'm not sure. Sometimes I wonder if that beautiful gold Newbery sticker acts more like a stop sign for younger readers (alarm! alarm! important book alert! morals to be discussed! heavy emotions involved! Bail Bail Bail!)

But I finally talked my 2nd grader into giving it a try (as in: let's read one chapter and if you don't like it we don't have to continue.) That's all it took.

Claudia, an 11 year old from Greenwich, Connecticut, decides she's going to run away from home (due to being taken for granted by her parents and that she's sick of being the responsible eldest sister) but because Claudia doesn't like the idea of running AWAY from anything, she decides it's important to run TO something: specifically New York City. She decides to take her younger brother Jamie as a partner, because he knows how to save his money, and that they will hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like I did years ago, both my kids thought it was way cool to spend the night in a museum locked in with all the antiquities and having free reign to step behind the velvet ropes. While everything doesn't come to life after hours in this museum, there is plenty of adventure for Claudia and Jamie as they have to figure out how not to get caught by the guards and then as they discover the mystery of the angel statue -- could it really be a Michelangelo? And could they have figured out a way to prove it to the museum curators?

In trying to figure out how to pass on their discovery (1967 was long before cell phones, email and the Internet) without giving themselves away, the children cross paths with the extremely rich and eccentric Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who has collecting stories down to a science, and stores them away in a series of metal filing cabinets. (This is my favorite point in the book, not just because of how things play out but because I think once her character comes out of narrating, it truly shines. She's what my grandmother would call "a hoot".)

While Claudia and Jamie's parents are frantically looking for them, there really is no sense of the danger inherent in this business of running away. Perhaps this is because the book was written before the 1970's onslaught of After School Specials, but as a parent, it wasn't a happy thought thinking about my kids (about the same age as Claudia and Jamie) wandering NYC alone with less than $50.

The cost of living issue should spark some interesting discussion with your kids about how much stuff cost then vs. now. Be sure to talk about how the kids research Michelangelo by using (gasp) a card catalog and a library instead of Google.

We read the 35th anniversary edition which has a fantastic forward by the author (which comes afterward, incidentally). She discusses the differences between 1967 New York City and the big apple today. She touches on the kind of city it was then, before the World Trade Center was even built, compared to today's post-911 skyline. And she includes an eyebrow-raising story of life-imitating-art involving an angelic statue discovered in a building very near the museum itself.

All in all, it was everything I remembered. The kids loved it (even the jaded 11-yr-old who had recently returned from his own first venture to NYC) and I'm hoping that the next time I suggest a book from my list of childhood favorites, they won't balk as much... whether it has a Newbery sticker on the cover or not.

5 bookmarks (aka, wish I had a first edition signed copy...)


Lara Ivey said...

I have been in LOVE with this book since 1979 when it was first read to me by my 5th grade teacher. Since then I have used it in the classroom and had the kids lying on their backs drawing pictures on the paper that was taped to the underside of the desks. Nothing like getting a little feel of what Michelangelo might have felt. The characters are definitely ones you can connect with even so many years later. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well! Thanks for sharing!!!

Kimberly J. Smith said...

What a great classroom activity! I would have enjoyed that art class -- Thanks for the comment!

Camille said...

I don't think I have heard of a teacher or parent reading this with kids in quite a long time. I love the idea of "share a classic." I get very caught up in keeping up with the new titles. It is good and important to remember the books that formed my early reading life.