In an extrordinary act of nerdyness, I did homework in preparation for next month's Hedgehog book (The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg): I read the Newbery Award-winning book by the same author, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I checked it out from the Yale library. It was printed in 1970, the 8th printing of this book, and it's literally held together by a piece of string. Talk about character. This is just another step in my quest to make up for those shameful years in my childhood during which I read only Baby-sitter's Club books.
The book is about a sister and brother, Claudia and Jamie, who run away from home in search of adventure. They hide-out at the Met, and soon find a mystery to solve: on display is a statue that may or may not have been carved by Michaelangelo.
First of all, I am amazed at how similar this book's plot is to that of Chasing Vermeer. But there are some important strengths in The Mixed-Up Files that make it better (and probably account for the award):
- The book isn't cluttered. It's a story and a mystery, but as it unfolds you aren't sitting there wondering what the hell is going on.
- The characters are developed well enough to be liked. From the beginning, you can sympathize with Claudia's need to get away from home, and you can appreciate Jamie's stinginess. Then throughout the story, they interact like siblings-- they nag and tease each other, but they also team up and suppport each other when it's necessary.
- The plot is believable. By this, I mean that the kids are still kids, not super-sleuths who are the only ones capable of solving the mystery. No, while these kids discover some important clues (by the tried and true method of research, not ESP), they're not ones that the dumb adults have overlooked or ignored.
- It's not just a mystery novel. As the plot advances, the kids grow and change and learn lessons. The story culminates with the entrance of Mrs. Frankweiler, narrator and omniscient adult, who articulates the lessons learned. (She's also a fun character with her own quirks. Not everyone has to be Miss Honey to be likable.)
Anyway, I liked it a lot.