Today’s Newbery rundown include my so far favorites. I believe that I want to be E.L. Konigsburg. Besides the two books that I am writing about today, she has written several more – three that feature her grandchildren. Goodness, gracious that gets me.
Books: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968)
A View From Saturday (1997)
Author: E.L. Konigsburg (1930 – )
Something about the author: Elaine Konigsburg went to college to be a chemist, but she did not find life in the lab suited for her. Moving to Florida with her husband, she taught high school chemistry at a private girls’ school. In later interviews, she remembers that she went into the job thinking that she would find a bunch of privileged, spoiled girls, but what she found were girls just like she once was – wanting to please, wondering about the world; figuring out who they were. When Mrs. Konigsburg stayed home to raise her children, she used her own experiences, her students’ experiences, and her own children’s experiences to build her stories. Without ever having published anything, she sent her first book with her own illustrations to a publisher. It was published in 1967. Her second book was accepted and published that same year. Those two books, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler became the Newbery Honorable Mention and the Newberry Medal winners in 1968. It was the first and only time for any author to accomplish this. Twenty-nine years later she was awarded her second medal with her book, A View From Saturday.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
What it’s about: Eleven year old Claudia needs to get away from her family to escape her plight of just being Claudia. She is not appreciated. There is sameness to every day that she must escape. Because she appreciates the creature comforts, she could not imagine pulling off a traditional runaway. Her plan involved heading into New York City and camping out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She recruits her nine-year-old brother – he has the most money and is the least obnoxious of her siblings. The two children make it to the city. They live in the museum for over a week. Best of all, while they are there they investigate the authenticity of a sculpture sold to the museum by a Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. The sculpture is drawing crowds to the museum, and it may or may not be a work of Michelangelo. Through their work and their eventual encounter with Mrs. Frankweiler, Claudia finds what will return her home with the difference that she was looking for.
Year it won: 1968
Somethings about that year: What do you say about 1968? It was the year of the My Lai massacre, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the emergence and expansion of the Civil Rights, Anti-war, and Feminist movements. In an essay, Konigsburg notes that the book did not include notes about the contentiousness of the times, because the children would have been unaffected by it. She wrote. “Theirs was a journey inside, and Claudia’s war was with herself.” 1968 was also the year that Laugh-In made its debut. It was needed.
The other thing about 1968 and the Newbery’s is that the awards dinner was held right here in Kansas City. The edition of the book that I read contained an afterwards written by Konigsburg for the 35th anniversary of the book. She also included a piece that was included in the Newbery program that year that featured a drawing of Claudia and Jamie and a script of their discussing the Newbery honor. Charming.
Favorite part: Claudia has very definite thoughts of what they need to do to maintain a proper lifestyle – even as runaways. She changes her underwear daily. They go to the laundromat. My favorite is when they gather paper towels and powdered soap from the museum restroom and take their after hours bath in the huge fountain in the museum’s indoor courtyard. The two page illustration that goes along with this reminded me of a painting of Matisse. Joyful.
Favorite character: While I want to say Claudia, I think I need to say brother, Jamie. Jamie is the one who identifies the rings left by the sculpture as identical to the logo of Ballentine beer. He then takes time to start humming the theme song that he heard on a commercial – much to the annoyance of his sister.
Book: A View from Saturday
What it’s about: Epiphany Middle School needed to choose an Academic Bowl team with the hope of it advancing beyond the school competition. Mrs. Olinski’s choice of three sixth-graders didn’t really make sense to anyone. They weren’t the best students, and they were all a little quirky. But they kept winning. They beat the other sixth graders, the seventh graders, the eight graders, and it was on to the regionals and state. They were unstoppable, and the stories that brought each of them to a place where their position on the team made perfect sense, are charmers.
Year it won: 1997
Somethings about that year: 1997 gave us Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Spice Girls’ Spice. Yea, I know.
Favorite part: Noah is told by his mom that he needs to write a thank you note to his grandparents in Florida. Noah’s story in the book, involves him dissecting why writing a thank you really doesn’t make sense since it was he who really provided the thanks-worthy services. He, after all, was a best man stand in for his grandparents’ friend, and he kind of made the wedding a success. Noah’s breakdown of the events is great.
Favorite character: Noah. He learns how to do calligraphy and teaches his friends. Hero.
“There’s a lifetime of secrets in those files. But there’s also just a lot of newspaper clippings. Junk. It’s a hodgepodge. Like my art collection. Now, you’ll tell me all about your running away, and I’ll add that to my files.” – Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler