Tag Archives: E.L. Konigsburg


This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1967). I’ll bet the majority of people stopping to view this post have a memory or two connected to their first reading of the beloved classic. As a New York City kid (Brooklyn, really), I was fifteen when I first began visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art where most of the story takes place. The idea that Claudia Kincaid, a month away from twelve, and her brother Jamie, age nine, had run away to live secretly inside the “Met,” was delightful—and infuriating! Why hadn’t I ever thought of that?

Reading ‘Mrs. Frankweiler’ again, after I’d published a few children’s books of my own, prompted a different thought–“How in the world did E.L. Konigsburg ever get her editor to accept such a long title?”

I still go to the Met when I can. These days I think of it as my “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; the calm, orderly place where nothing bad can ever happen. But sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a child’s knee or elbow behind a Greek funerary urn and the place takes on a more adventurous air. And when I need a dose of the author’s fine sense of gumption and wonder, I take out the autographed copy I snagged at a long-ago writer’s conference, and reread it straight through.

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

Seven years ago, the writers and readers who formed our group named it after E.L. Konigsburg’s unforgettable book. Our goal was, and still is, to bring “awareness, enthusiasm, and celebration” to middle grade works like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Here some of us share recollections of how we felt when we first read the story. I invite you to submit your memories, as well.

Rosanne Parry: I really connected with Jamie Kincaid because I too have a bossy big sister and he was a bit of a card sharp. Around the time I read the book I also learned to play poker and had a brief torrid affair with gambling in elementary and middle school. Apparently I out grew it because I haven’t gambled in years. I also really loved that they planned their running away in such detail. I had quite a lot of freedom to roam growing up in the 70s, so I remember by the time I was 9 or 10 taking solo excursions to the library and science museum and zoo on the city bus. And because of the book I was always looking for places where a kid could hide and live outside the notice of grownups. The idea appealed to me a lot.

Tricia Springstubb: I didn’t go to a museum till I was in college, but what child doesn’t have fantasies (good and terrifying) of being locked in somewhere overnight? (Mine were of the library.) I was a bossy sister myself, with two younger brothers, but had none of Claudia’s daring. How I admired her ingenuity! I remember especially the little royal bed (was it Marie Antoinette’s?) By now I’ve been to the Met dozens of times, yet it still holds mystery and the promise of the undiscovered. I love watching its kid visitors!

Dorian Cirrone: I grew up in South Florida where there were no big museums and very little reliable public transportation. So even though I was older when I read the novel, I was still amazed and kind of jealous that kids the ages of Claudia and her brother could actually get somewhere without their parents driving them. When I was seventeen, I visited New York City for the first time. Since then, I’ve been to the Met dozens of times. And I’m sure I still haven’t seen everything there.

Julie Artz: This book, like The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe, and Harriet the Spy, became an instant favorite of mine when I first read it in elementary school. The feeling of freedom and independence that book gave me came back each time I did a lock-in throughout middle school and high school–being in a big empty building at night, escaping reality (and parental supervision) for a few precious hours before having to go back to real life always felt like such a huge adventure.

Sean Easely: I remember reading this book in my third grade teacher’s class. Mrs. Weeks was the elementary teacher who understood my ADHD/hyperactive/falling-out-of-my-seat-bored self better than any other. She taped a list of projects for me to undertake whenever I finished my work before everyone else, and one of those was to read about the kids going crazy in the MET. I remember feeling like them, like I saw things that other people didn’t see, and that the freedom to look at things in different ways (like when you’re hiding out where you’re not supposed to be) was exactly what I needed to do something really, really cool.

T.P. Jagger: I must confess that I didn’t read FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES… as a kid. However, when I started teaching fourth grade, I found a copy of the book in my classroom. It ended up making a wonderful end-of-the-day classroom read-aloud!

Michele Weber Hurwitz: Somehow the book passed me by as a kid, but I read it as an adult in a mother-daughter book club. I was an aspiring middle grade author at the time and I remember the story prompted so many unique opinions among the girls, mostly about whether they’d run away or not 🙂 Listening to their varied thoughts about the plot and characters helped me realize how readers see things differently!

Valerie Stein: .Mixed-Up Files was one of those books I read and re-read between 4th and 6th grades. When I needed that great, kind of brainy writing that appealed to me, the misfit, it was the perfect book.

Heather Murphy Capps: My first time reading MUF was on summer vacation in the back of a car when I was in maybe 5th grade?. The hatchback part, behind the back seat — which tells you how long ago it was! I was so enthralled, I coulnd’t stop thinking about the adventure of planning and executing the perfect runaway — and so I did exactly that. Urged on by me, my sister, the two sons of our traveling companions, and I all snuck out of the house we were staying in — at about 5 in the morning. We wandered the neighborhoods of the small town, perfectly safe. VERY LUCKY!! And the adventure was glorious. When a local policeman returned us to the house shortly after, I had a hard time feeling anything other than victorious — which I don’t think is exactly what Ms. Konigsburg intended when she wrote the book!!

Annabelle Fisher is the author of  THE SECRET DESTINY OF PIXIE PIPER (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) and the forthcoming sequel PIXIE PIPER AND THE MATTER OF THE BATTER (release date: 5/30/17).

A Tribute to E.L. Konigsburg

All of us at the Mixed-Up Files were saddened to learn of the passing of the author who inspired the name of our group blog, E.L. Konigsburg. The esteemed author died on April 19 at age 83.

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Konigsburg was a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal, for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 1968, and for The View from Saturday in 1997. She was the only writer to have received both the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year.

She was born Elaine Lobl in New York City, the middle of three daughters. She grew up in Western Pennsylvania, then bucked the trends for women at the time she entered college by pursuing a major in chemistry at what is now Carnegie Mellon University. She continued her studies in graduate school, taught science at a private girls’ school, married David Konigsburg, and had three children. As her children began school, Konigsburg rekindled a childhood passion for painting and writing. Her desire to write something that reflected her own children’s growing up experiences, rather than the privileged lives of many characters in the books she had read, is the spark for many of her works.

Why did she choose to use E.L.? She didn’t think it was important for readers to know if she was a man or woman. And, Konigsburg was a great admirer of E.B. White, so she thought it would bring her luck to submit her first manuscript as E.L.

The Mixed-Up Files is perhaps Konigsburg’s best known book. The brilliantly quirky mystery features a spunky brother and sister who run away and hide in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. But during her lifetime, she authored 20 titles for children. Her most recent book was The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (Atheneum, 2007).

Many of her main characters are age 12. She once explained that this is the age when kids long to be like everyone else, but at the same time, want to establish their own identity. This makes for a compelling question: how does a character reconcile those opposing longings?

And that’s the heart of E.L.’s characters — and her novels — those inner questions every child grapples with as he or she grows up.

Thank you, E.L., for writing such timeless, engaging stories. We will miss you, but know that many generations of children will continue to enjoy your books.



It’s a Mystery To Me

illustration by olart.ollie

Every book has a mystery in it.

Don’t believe me?  Pick up the nearest title.  I grabbed a fantasy: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.   It may be about a boy going to a school for wizards, but Harry and his friends spend a good deal of the book figuring out the mystery of what is on the third floor of Hogwarts.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” you say.  “That book really is mainly about the mystery of the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Fair enough.  Let’s try a classic instead: Charlotte’s Web.  It’s a book about friendship, right?  But—aha!—that friendship starts with a little mystery.   Wilbur hears a tiny voice promising to be his friend, but because it’s dark he can’t see who’s talking.  Though he searches for clues the next morning, he can’t solve the mystery until Charlotte introduces herself.

Some books, like Charlotte’s Web, have only a small mysterious element to them, but there are plenty that are mainly about the whodunit.  These books are clumped together into what we call the mystery genre.

But what books fall under this genre?  Actually, that’s a hard question to answer.  Every person has a different definition of what books are considered part of the mystery genre.  This is probably because, as I mentioned before, every book has a mystery hiding in its pages. Under the mystery umbrella you can find puzzlers, crime and detective fiction, suspense and thrillers, even humor or horror.  Most have contemporary settings, but there are historical mysteries, too.  There are also fantasy mysteries, sci-fi mysteries and paranormal mysteries.  There is just about any type of mystery you can think of because—say it with me—every book has a mystery somewhere in it.

I’ve done my own sleuthing and compiled a list of ten must-read middle-grade mysteries.  They are:


by Blue Balliett

Calder and Petra become friends and then set off to solve the mystery of a stolen piece of Vermeer’s artwork.  Calder’s fascination with pentominoes (math puzzle pieces) is one of the most interesting and clever things about this mystery. Other books in this series…


by Pseudonymous Bosch

I wish I could tell you about Cass and Max-Earnest, who find the journal of a missing magician, or about how they learn what the mysterious Symphony of Smells is.  I really wish I could.  But I can’t.  It’s a secret.  Other books in this series…


by Patricia Finney writing as Grace Cavendish

Grace Cavendish is a lady-in-waiting at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, but she solves mysteries while no one is looking. In this book, one of Grace’s suitors is killed, and she must find a way to prove that the man she gives her hand to is not the killer. Other books in this series…


by E.L. Konigsburg

Claudia decides to run away from home, but she needs somewhere to run away to.  So she and her brother, Jamie, decide to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  While living there, they come across a mystery surrounding an angel statue purchased by the museum.


by R.L. LeFevers

Theodosia spends most of her time at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities where her parents work.  And it’s a good thing, too, because only she can see the ancient curses still attached to the Egyptian artifacts.  When her mom brings home a cursed amulet, Theodosia is thrust in the middle of a battle between secret societies.  Other books in this series…


by Ellen Raskin

Sam Westing has sixteen heirs, and after his death all of them are summoned for the reading of his will.  There they are divided into eight pairs, each pair is given a different clue, and all are challenged to solve the mystery of who killed Sam Westing.  Whomever solves the mystery inherits his millions.


by Rick Riordan

At their grandmother’s funeral, Amy and Dan Cahill learn they are members of the most powerful family in the world.  Their grandmother’s will offers a challenge to all family members: find the 39 Clues to secure the family’s power.  But only one team can win the challenge (and the power), so Amy and Dan find themselves in an international race against the rest of the family.  Other books in this series…


by Donald Sobol

Each mystery is short but contains all the clues needed to solve the puzzle.  Can you figure it out without checking the solution in the back? This book is a great way for budding detectives to stretch their minds and see if they have what it takes to be great sleuths.  See more and still more…


by Rebecca Stead

Miranda’s life revolves around Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  But when she discovers mysterious notes from someone who seems to know the future and claims to want to save her life, she spends large amounts of time watching the homeless lunatic her mom calls the laughing man as she tries to find the connection between her life and the notes.


by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance are the four clever children who make up the Mysterious Benedict Society.  Their first mission: infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened and find out what the evil Mr. Curtain is up to.  And once they do, they must use their special skills together to stop him.  Other books in this series…

Search out your own favorite middle-grade mysteries and share with me what you find.   And make sure you investigate our Fifth Summer Giveaway, where three awesome MG books are up for grabs.

But while you’re sleuthing, do me a favor.  If you happen to come across a book with no mystery anywhere in it, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.


Elissa Cruz’s life is full of toys and papers and books and kids, and because of it she solves mysteries on a daily basis.  Important ones, too, like where the missing car keys are, or who ate the last piece of cake.  Her first book, a light and fun middle-grade mystery, is currently on submission.