Tag Archives: E.L. Konigsburg

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.

Humor ain’t just something you find in the bathroom

I have often been told, “Brian, you’re a numbskull.” Thankfully that has nothing to do with this post, I just wanted to put it out there for discussion. I’ve also been told that there are two types of people, those who laugh at ‘I Love Lucy’ and those who laugh at ‘The Three Stooges’.

I don’t think it’s quite that black and white and read all over, but it gives us a gauge.

What makes an 8-12 year old boy or girl laugh? In my experience… if it’s presented in the proper format, almost anything can make a middle grader crackup. Honestly. Especially when you’re with them in person. But what about in books? That’s where things get like my mom’s liver++… very, very tough.

++ Referring to the liver my mom COOKS, not her ACTUAL liver. Yet I’m craving fava beans and a nice chianti?

Cover and Title:

Probably the hardest part about humor in books is getting the middle grader to actually pick up the book. A good title or cover can make that happen. For example, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey, that’s a book I gotta… um, I mean a middle grader has got to have. Of course, it doesn’t have to be bathroom humor. It could be as simple as Hoot by Carl Hiaasan or as extreme as The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.


Once you have the book in the hands of the questionable reader in question, the author must come through with something funny to read about. The entire book doesn’t have to be humorous, mind you, but slanted in that direction. For example, how about having two kids sneak in and spend the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as in The Mixed-Up Files of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Or how about the Nightmare Academy: Books 1, 2 and the soon to be released Book 3: Monster Wars by  Dean Lorey . The premise: When Charlie Benjamin sleeps, monsters wake up. And sleepovers just aren’t as fun when these horrible creatures try to eat the other children. These books are hysterical. And just wait until you learn about the Trout of Truth.


Words, Puns and Analogies:

Certain words will always crack a smile on the face of a middle grader. (As mature adults, we certainly don’t find these funny anymore.) The obvious being ‘poop’ *snickering* and *still giggling* ‘fart’. *laughing* *coughing* Er… ahem. Sorry about that. But even words like ‘fanorkle’ and ‘gloop’ can be funny when used properly. Still better, twist words into puns or analogies and you have yourself a laugh riot that may need defused by teargas totting Tommies. Take the book HECK – Where the Bad Kids Go by  Dale Basye , these pages are just full of it+++.

+++ Referring to puns and analogies, not *snickering again* poop


Just like Adult and Young Adult books, humorous Middle Grade books use characters to tell the story.


The voice of the author can imbue (how about that for word usage) humor from the get go. The Fudge books written by Judy Blume are perfect examples. (Not to mention ‘fudge’ can be a funny word – see the movie ‘A Christmas Story’.) But voice can go beyond the pages. I read the book Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and was entertained by the tale. When I had the chance to LISTEN to Neil read from the book, it was hilarious. The crowd roared as he became the characters, mimicking their voices as he imagined them.


To help take humor to the next level, more and more books are including illustrations with the prose. And we’re not talking about picture books, people. We’re talking stick figures! Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney may one day be a bestseller. What? Oh… it is? Um, I meant to say IS a bestseller.

How about You?

I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite humorous MG books in this post, but what about you? What books, growing up or just recently, made you laugh? Or giggle? Or at the very least, give up a crooked smile?

To entice you to reply, I’m going to give away a SIGNED copy of Rapacia by Dale Basye (Book 2 of Where The Bad Kids Go) to a randomly drawn winner.