Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Year: 1967

I remember reading this book, or having it read to me, when I was young, most likely in gifted class around 5th or 6th grade.  I also remember liking it, which is saying something for how many years have passed between then & now.  Actually, I remember many classics I was exposed to during those years, and I silently thank my teachers for understanding that literature means something, even to children.  The Giver, The White Mountains, The Westing Game; novels for young minds that require some input from the reader, or at least some critical thinking.  Basil E. Frankweiler is less a mystery or an adventure and more a character book, combining suspense & excitement, but making the children the main focus.  Now, having read the book again, this time to my own children, I found it a pleasant & enjoyable experience, a wonderfully written story that all should read at least once.

Claudia Kincaid is running away.  She’s tired of her mundane Greenwich, Connecticut life, tired of being an ignored member of her family, and tired of never feeling or doing anything important.  So she’s decided to run away and she’s taking her younger brother Jamie with her, partly because he has a transistor radio and partly because he saves all his money.  Claudia & Jamie, after careful planning, hide themselves away in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, not an easy feat, given the tourists, the guards, and the lack of showers.  But they squirrel themselves away, beginning an adventure that will change their lives.  But it’s not the leaving home that does it, it’s an accidental discover concerning a questionable piece of art that sets them down to path toward doing something special, something they will remember for the rest of their days.

The first thing that’s so great about this book is the amount of preparation & thought that went into keeping the children hidden from all eyes during their stay at the museum.  Their schedule is very thorough, and you can almost imagine yourself secreted away behind a sarcophagus while the guards prowl around with their flashlights in the dark of night.  Secondly, the mystery the children find themselves amateur detectives on is pretty fun to follow along, even if there’s no great twist or revelation in the end.  But the greatest part of Basil E. Frankweiler is the children themselves, excellent characters who you fall in love with, despite their faults & their arguments.  It so happens, looking at the book from a film perspective, that my favorite director, Wes Anderson, used this book as inspiration for my favorite movie, The Royal Tenenbaums.  Just a cool bonus fact, though the novel hardly needs it, standing up all on its own as a young adult classic that we all should experience.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆