Museum Living and Mixed-up Files: Revisiting Books

The title must have captured my nine-year-old imagination as I pulled it from the shelf. What stood out in my memory was solving the puzzle of the mixed-up files, sleeping in the Metropolitan museum, bathing in the fountain. These recollections spoke of adventure that entranced a nine-year-old. “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” also stood out in my high school classmates’ minds as I discovered this past year via Facebook postings. I decided to read the book, authored by E.L. Konigsburg and awarded the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature, again.

Claudia and Jamie Kincaid run away to New York City and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art–instigated by Claudia, who wanted to feel special: “A reason had to do with the sameness of each and every week. She was bored with simply being straight-A’s Claudia Kincaid.” The effort she made in arranging the trip and the cleverness she and her brother exhibited must have kindled my own quest for adventure.

At the Met, Claudia becomes obsessed with the newly-donated statue of an angel—the donor of which was Mrs. Frankweiler. Could Michelangelo have chiseled it out of marble? To learn more about the Renaissance, Claudia’s and Jamie’s investigations take them around the museum and to the New York Public Library. This investigation fuels Claudia’s hope of feeling special, if only she can solve the mystery.

Their investigation eventually brings them to the estate of Mrs. Frankweiler. Amused by the children, she makes an arrangement to answer their question if they can find the proof in her files in one hour. “I don’t want my files messed up or placed out of order. They’re in a special order that makes sense only to me. If you move things around, I won’t be able to find anything and our whole arrangement will be off.”

Claudia listed possible file headings for her and Jamie to search:

  • Michelangelo
  • Buonarroti
  • Angel
  • Parke Bernet Galleries
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Italian Renaissance
  • Auctions
  • Sculptor
  • Marble
  • Florence, Italy
  • Bologna, Italy
  • Rome, Italy

They solved it–you’ll have to read it to find out the answer to the mystery. I believe the Mixed-up files appealed to me as my mind likes to make connections between divergent facts. Joining disparate bits of information continues to bring me pleasure and having a really good memory makes it easier. How one categorizes things can be an individual matter, which may explain why standards exist for filing books in a library or in an archive. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’s eccentric filing system has always appealed to me.

Some forty-plus years since I read it, I smiled at the accuracy of my recollections. Upon reading it again, I appreciated other aspects of the story that my nine-year-old self missed.

Have a Productive Day,

Anne Meixner

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