Friday, May 6, 2011

E.L. Konigsburg

Image courtesy of tales of a

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, and indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.-From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg

In fifth grade we had to keep track of our "recreational reading" with an ongoing book list. Every month or so we talked about one of the books on this list to the class. Looking back, I think my fifth grade teacher was very smart to have this type of peer suggestion, because sometimes a classmate's recommendation carries more weight than those of a teacher or parent (particularly at that age).

Anyhow, I was nerdy competitive and read A LOT, not only because I enjoyed it, but because I wanted the longest list of course. Sometimes I would just zoom through a book without really taking much away, but other times it was as if I lived between the pages. When I read E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it was definitely one of those living in the book times. I remember because I spent one whole recess going on and on about it to my teacher as she tried to monitor the playground and listen to me. I had to be gently reminded my time was up when I talked to the class about the book during my recreational reading recommendation presentation. This story about a sister and brother who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and become entwined in a caper that revolves around the mystery of a statue and a peculiar old woman was probably the best book I had ever read- I am sure I touted it as such - and I think it held that title for me for a really long time.

When I graduated from college, I returned home for the summer to figure out what the heck I was going to do next. One day in May, I received a package in the mail from my fifth grade teacher with a graduation card and a copy of The View from Saturday, an E.L.Konigsburg book that had just been published. I read it immediately.

I then spent the better part of a morning telling my mother, a middle school English teacher, about it and how fantastic it was and how she should tell her class about it. I also realized that of all the classes I had taken, all the subjects I had touched upon in the last four years, there were few things as exciting and interesting to me as children's books- everything from picture books to the young adult novels. With degrees in English and Studio Art, I think I had been circling this field without even knowing it and that summer I looked into graduate programs in Children's Literature. I figure I have a couple of Konigsburg books and my fifth grade teacher to thank for the best career decision I ever made.

Ms. Konigsburg became fascinating to me because of the books that were products of her imagination. Even as I read about her online before writing this post I was impressed and once again enchanted by the excerpts I came across from her work. She has two Newbery Medals (one for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and the other for The View from Saturday) and a Newbery Honor (for Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth) under her belt. She is one of the few authors out there who can so deftly write of the humor, complexity, and curiosity of middle grade children as they struggle to define, and grow into, themselves. She is definitely someone whose work should be celebrated this Children's Book Week.

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