Tag Archives: E.L. Konigsburg

Meet Catherine Newman, author of One Mixed-Up Night

As y’all know, here at MUF, we are ALL ABOUT From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (c’mon, it’s obvious!), so when we heard that Catherine Newman wrote a middle grade novel, One Mixed-Up Night, about two kids who run away and spend the night in IKEA, we knew we had to feature her and her new book. The Massachusetts-based Newman, who is also the author of the kids’ craft book Stitch Camp and writes the blog Ben and Birdy, talked to us about her inspiration for One Mixed-Up Night, what makes middle grade the golden years of reading, and where she dreams of spending the night.

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman

From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors: What does the novel, Mrs. Basil… mean to you? Did you fantasize about running away to the Met?
Catherine Newman: I was probably ten when I read that book, and yes, yes, yes! I completely fantasized about running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art! (I grew up in New York City, so I maybe kind of extra-fantasized about it.) I loved the idea of sleeping in that antique bed, pulling coins from the fountain to buy hotdogs… everything. My book’s plot, set in Ikea, is of course what I was going for. It’s my main characters’ favorite book, and it’s what inspired them (and me). Although someone pointed out to me recently that my book also has a little of the picture book Corduroy in it, which is totally true!

MUF: What is it about your novel that speaks to kids so successfully, do you think? Did your own children read it and enjoy it?
CN: Oh, well, gosh. I really do hope it speaks to kids successfully! My daughter Birdy, who is really the person I wrote it for, did love it. I think there’s an undercurrent of nerd-positivity in the book that really speaks to kids who are on the cusp of teenagerhood. (I mean except for, I guess, kids that don’t identify at all with geeky awkwardness. Are there kids like that? Those kids probably don’t need the imaginary friends that a book can offer.) Frankie (short for Francesca) and Walter, the main characters, are bookish kids who decide to do something crazy. I think that’s a combination that lots of kids can relate to, or at least aspire to. Also, they’re really, really good friends, and they take excellent care of each other. I know that my own kids were always craving books where the main characters treated each other kindly.

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

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

MUF: What gave you the idea of doing an homage to Mrs. Basil? 
CN: I got the idea from the way my son Ben and his long-time best friend Ava used to sit on the couch with the Ikea catalogue for hours on end. (They still do, actually.) They always got so dreamy about it—“If you could live in any of these Ikea rooms, which would it be?”—and maybe that’s what triggered the Mrs. Basil plot overlap. At first I was worried that not that many kids would related to the Ikea obsession, but I can’t tell you how many parents have said to me, “Oh my god! My kids are obsessed with Ikea!” So now I’m not so worried about that.

MUF: What do you hope readers will experience by reading your novel?
CN: Okay, please skip this next part if you’re worried about spoilers: There’s a subplot in the book that’s about grief and healing, and I think that—beyond the fun, fantasy Ikea adventure plot—kids might really enjoy seeing these friends work through something hard together and grow so much, with so much decency. So, I hope they’re entertained, but there’s also something deeper here too, maybe.

Author Catherine Newman. Photo credit: Ben Newman

MUF: What made you want to write a middle grade novel?
CN: Ah. Two things, mainly. First, my daughter Birdy was middle-grade age when I wrote this book, and I knew so much about the books she loved. Harry Potter, of course, but also books like When You Reach Me by (my idol) Rebecca Stead or The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson or Framed (and everything else by Frank Cottrell Boyce). Also books that challenged and inspired her in different ways, like Wonder and Out of My Mind and Counting by Sevens. But the second reason is that, for me, those were the golden years of reading—the years when I was scolded for showing up at the dinner table with Black Hearts in Battersea, or for burying my nose in Harriet the Spy when I was supposed to be doing cartwheels for my grandmother. I have loved books all my life, but there was something special about those middle grades.

MUF: So if you could run off and spend the night anywhere in the world, where would you go? And who would you bring?
CN: Not Ikea! I’m like Frankie and Walter’s parents, who all kind of love-hate Ikea, rather than just loving it like the kids do. Maybe I’d spend the night in Zabar’s, that enormous deli in New York City (I’d eat all the whitefish salad and French cheese). Or at a place with hundreds of cats and kittens, though I don’t know what kind of place that would be! So I would probably pick our campsite at Nickerson Campground, on Cape Cod. Because, besides home (with our cats), that spot, in our tent, is my family’s happiest place.

HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER!

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.

konigsburg 1

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.