Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a wonderful story of two children who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The story was published in 1968 and won a Newberry Award.

The story combines elements of realistic fiction and mystery. As the story ages, children are starting to appreciate it as historical fiction as they learn more about what life was like for children in the late 1960's. One great activity for parents or teachers reading this book with children is to discuss the differences between Jamie and Claudia's life experiences and current life for children. The cost of living is one of the most interesting discussions I have had with children.

Mrs. Frankweiler tells the story to her lawyer. Early on, you can understand the relationship between her lawyer, the children, and Mrs. Frankweiler.

My fascination with the story has always revolved around the children living in the museum. The main plot however, revolves around Claudia and Jamie trying to discover if Michelangelo created an angel that the museum has purchased from Mrs. Frankeweiler. The children are not handed the answer to their question, but given one shot to discover the answer in the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The story does not address the dangers of running away. I have read criticisms that it presents an idealized view of children surviving on their own. I can say honestly I read and enjoyed this book as a child and shared it with many younger relatives with none of them who truly believed they could run away and safely survive in an art museum. It was fun to contemplate what it would take. It also was a good chance to discuss the financial costs of living independently. Claudia and Jamie discuss the challenges of budgeting their limited funds in order to survive the trip.

Another criticism of this book is the lack of concern for the family left behind. Jamie expresses some regret, but Claudia is frustrated and searching for something. This book is not a statement about family life, but if Claudia's reaction bothers people, it is a chance to discuss what the family and Claudia could have done differently to address her issues. We all know of children who have these frustrations. Claudia can be a way of opening the door to discussing alternate solutions.

I have found success using this book as a literature circle book to discuss the story or as a read aloud that involves think alouds. These methods seem to develop some interesting discussions. For many students, I found it still required generating some interest, helping make connections, in order to have a more successful independent read. The students that did not like the book were often the ones I did not spend as much time promoting the book to prior and during reading.

Free Resources:

Comprehension Questions from Scholastic

Schools of California Online Guide for Teachers Curriculum Guide

Wadsworth Elementary Curriculum Guide


  1. I LOVED this book as a kid, and, in fact, just handed it to DD (almost 10) tonight who was looking for a book to replace The Penderwicks, which she just finished before supper today. I haven't read it with a parent's eyes, though, Bailey, so your review is timely and one I'll give quite a bit of consideration to. : )

  2. I enjoyed it too and when I read the criticisms, I wanted to address them. I did not want people who had never read the book to walk away without trying it because of what others said.