From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by

E. L. Konigsburg

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of E. L. Konigsburg

Elaine Lobl was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who raised her and her two sisters in a small Pennsylvania mill town. Though she was her high school’s valedictorian, Lobl didn’t know about scholarships (her school lacked a guidance counselor), so she earned money for college by working as a bookkeeper in a meat plant. There she met her future husband, David Konigsburg, the plant owner’s brother. She studied chemistry at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, becoming her family’s first college graduate. While the Konigsburg children were small, Elaine took art lessons, and once the youngest was in school, she began writing. In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, she describes her motivation to write as the desire to make a record of suburban America in the “early autumn of the twentieth century,” especially the everyday lives of children and families. Growing up, she never read stories about grouchy fathers or headachy mothers or pushy ladies, and she sought to put characters like these into her books. She also wanted to gently show kids that it’s okay not to conform. She was awarded the Newbery Medal for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and the Newbery Honor for her second book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. As of 2021, E. L. Konigsburg is the only author to ever have been awarded both a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year (1968). She was one of six authors to have won two Newbery Medals in their career. (The second Medal was for The View from Saturday in 1997.) She also wrote several picture books featuring her grandchildren. Konigsburg’s husband died in 2001, and she followed him in 2013.
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Historical Context of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

In her afterword to the 35th anniversary edition of Mixed-Up Files, Konigsburg notes that in 1967, when the book was first published, New York City saw many student protests, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, and race riots. Instead of highlighting historical events like these, she chose to focus on her main character’s interior journey toward growing up. However, the novel is still strongly rooted in a specific place—Manhattan and, especially, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of the Manhattan landmarks that feature in the story no longer exist, like typewriter company Olivetti on Fifth Avenue, where Claudia types her letter to the museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is certainly still there, though its admission is no longer free, and the restaurant fountain where the Kincaid kids took a bath no longer exists. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or “the Met,” was founded in 1870 and is housed on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, across the street from Central Park. It boasts one of the world’s biggest art collections and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, with over two million items in its permanent collections. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Met received up to 7 million visitors per year. Finally, one of the most acclaimed Renaissance artists, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), is best known for sculptures Pietà and David and for the painted ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The novel’s “Angel” statue attributed to Michelangelo, however, is fictional.

Other Books Related to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy is another example of a novel from the 1960s featuring a precocious, resourceful girl who wants to feel different from her middle school classmates. Two other children’s books about kids who run away are Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy (1998), about an African American boy searching for home during the Great Depression, and Maniac Magee (1990), Jerry Spinelli’s story of a warm-hearted runaway orphan. More recently, Alan Gratz’s 2017 middle grade novel Ban This Book features a fourth-grade protagonist named Amy Anne who starts a banned books library in her locker after her favorite book, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is banned from the school library. E. L. Konigsburg’s many other books for children and young adults include The View from Saturday (about a group of sixth grade friends and their disabled teacher), The Second Mrs. Gioconda (a historical novel about Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa), A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (about Queen of France and England Eleanor of Aquitaine), and Silent to the Bone (a YA mystery).
Key Facts about From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Full Title: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • When Written: 1966
  • Where Written: New York City suburbs
  • When Published: 1967
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction
  • Setting: 1960s New York City (especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Greenwich, Connecticut
  • Climax: Claudia Kincaid discovers the truth about the angel sculpture in Mrs. Frankweiler’s files.
  • Antagonist: Claudia’s parents, the museum guards
  • Point of View: First Person, Third Person

Extra Credit for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Life Imitates Art. In 1995, an expert in Italian Renaissance sculpture noticed a small marble cupid statue in the lobby of the French Embassy, across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert announced that the cupid was an early Michelangelo. When The New York Times ran a story about the cupid, lots of people wrote to E. L. Konigsburg asking if she’d known about the statue when she wrote her book (she hadn’t).

Fact and Fiction. Ever since Mixed-Up Files’s publication in 1967, museum staff have been asked so many questions about the book that in 2001, the Metropolitan’s magazine MuseumKids published an entire “Mixed-up Files” Issue.