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

e. l. konigsburg is a mulitple Newberry Medal winner for her works for children. The next few posts regard the e.l. konigsburg Collection with three of her novels. For simplicity, these blogs will go in order of the books as listed in the collection.

The first, and probably her most well-known piece is the beloved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Many of you have probably read this one, so my account will be brief.

This book takes us on a journey with Claudia and Jamie, two of four siblings living in the New York area. Claudia, the eldest of all four, decides to run away from “injustice” and the suggested boredom of routine. After much thought, she decides to take her brother Jamie with her. Her plan is for them to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they live, study, and soon discover the sculpture Angel. Angel is a mystery that Claudia cannot resist solving. Their studies lead them to the door of Mrs. Frankweiler herself.

At first glance, this story has little but basic charm and creative story-telling, but upon closer inspection, one can find some interesting concepts. First is the nature of learning. Although Claudia and Jamie do not claim to adore school or their lessons in any particular way, they quickly develop the ability and some relative enjoyment of independent learning. Interestingly, their learning and searching becomes much more in depth and involves a high level of critical thinking as they solve the mystery of Angel. The lesson? Formalized education is hardly the only way to learn, and yes, children can learn critical thinking. Don’t be afraid to start early. And it really helps to peak their interest. Children have a natural curiosity that helps them learn even faster than adults. Similarly, it teaches children that it’s okay to investigate, to learn. They may find something out that no one else knows, simply by having the courage to ask the question.

It poses another argument often seen in literature, including Peter Pan, the His Dark Materials series, and the infamous Lord of the Flies. The question is, what would happen if children were not guided? What would we do without routine and established social rules? How easily can we escape them? Claudia’s answer is to continue her routine, even in a different environment and maintain socialization, even when they must live invisibly. Her answer is to be “inconspicuous” they must blend in and obey many social rules. But more than that, they obey many of the lessons they learned at home and much of their routine (that she wished to escape) because it felt right to her. It’s an interesting addition to the general socialization debate.

Thus, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler receives Inklings approval. Appropriate for most ages.

Everwild

Hello, Inklings!

Some day I’ll do this regularly…  Regardless, my long sojourn gave me enough time to get and then read Everwild by Neal Shusterman.

Front Cover

The Review Part: This is the second installment of the Skinjacker Trilogy, which began with Everlost (see post “Everlost”), which depicts the afterlives of children.  Again, we see Mary the White Witch, Allie the Outcast, and Nick, now named the Chocolate Ogre, as well as Johnny-O and Speedo. Picking up shortly after the end of Everlost, we follow three different story lines as told by Mary, Nick, and Allie, respectively, each of which merge back together at the end, as one might imagine.

This new story is told with great skill and enthusiasm, with new characters, new dry humor and commentary, and many new places, including the Everwild. I highly recommend this one for it’s clever, tongue-in-cheek qualities, as well as it’s depth (to be discussed below). Appropriate for intermediate to advanced readers. I definitely recommend reading these books in order. It is easy to see how Everwild could be very confusing without Everlost.

The Analysis Part

Everwild continues to approach the concept of life after death, but it takes more of a back-seat to other themes than it did in Everlost. However, it does beautifully portray the idea of continuity, even after death, and takes a lot of the fear of death away.

Perhaps the most impressive theme is that of right and wrong, good and bad, and types of manipulative behaviors. These are powerfully interwoven throughout the novel and illustrated at a rather impressive level.

Right and Wrong/Good and Bad: Interestingly, none of the characters act out of a willful maliciousness. Shusterman (or the narrator) might suggest that this is simply because children have not developed this trait as adults have. More to the point, it presents the ways that conflict can arise and massive betrayal, violence, and even war can erupt all without true malicious intent. Similarly, Shusterman draws a line between malicious and ruthless, stepping further to question how much does the end justify the means? It also asks is ruthlessness or even apparent cruelty for the sake of “right” even acceptable? What constitutes just? Right? Wrong? Good? Evil? Cruel? Justified? It’s a massive theme beautifully debated.

Manipulations: This doesn’t move far from the ideas of good and evil. What is interesting about this in Everwild is that many of the characters use each other, or test each other. The loyalty is quite limited, with a few exceptions. This will teach the rarety of true loyalty in life. Most of the characters intend to use each other for personal gain in some way. Consequently, this pattern and layering of manipulation may color the readers’ views of who is good or bad. Similarly, it approaches the rather odd nature of love by creating a complicated layering of characters who love each other, and who love each other in different ways, how they show it, and what they expect.

Summary

This is a great second book, and thus far, I highly recommend the trilogy (only two being written, thus far, however). It brings younger readers into a higher philosophical plane in thinking, although the book is written very accessibly. The characters are likable, yet complex, and the plot moves continually forward with twists, turns, and added interests. The characters work through serious ethical problems, sometimes forced to make difficult snap judgments. It’s a great piece for ethics and philosophy, as well as an entertaining read, earning it a full Inkling approval and recommendation.