100 Chapter Books Project: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

mixedupfiles

 

The top ten of the Top 100 Chapter Books list is obviously a prestigious place to end up. Number seven on the list is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) by E.L. Konigsburg. I don’t think that it’s because it’s one of the most amazing children’s books ever written but rather that it’s a very solid and interesting book that has a timelessness to it that would easily keep it in the minds of most readers long past childhood.

What it’s about: Claudia Kincaid feels unappreciated at home so she decides to run away from home. She thinks the best place to hide would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the best companion would be her younger brother, Jamie, who has more money saved than she does. They set off on an adventure but unexpectedly find a mystery to solve.

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: There’s a lot of really interesting information in the story about history and art and it is presented in a way that makes learning fun. It’s also fascinating as a period story with automats and laundromats and small change being enough to buy a lot of things.

Worst part: The story is narrated by Mrs. Frankweiler herself and she switches between “talking” to someone in a letter and telling the story of Claudia and Jamie. I started out listening to the audiobook but changed to a paper copy because I couldn’t tell immediately when these changes were happening. It was a tad confusing.

Verdict: Buy

Well, it turned out that I hadn’t ever read this book. I wish I had though because it’s fun and I would have loved that two of Claudia’s brothers had the same name as my brothers and that she was also a beleaguered older sister. I never thought about running away but I certainly longed for some space and quiet! One of my common complaints about books on this list are that they seem too dated for modern readers. This book is obviously from another time but it’s written in a way that the time seems interesting and really comes to life. The characters could easily exist today and their relationships are natural and believable. This is simply a solid story that will leave most readers satisfied.

Just a quick note to say that this was my 61st post of this project. Holy cow! Only 39 books left to read (ten of which will be rereads). I’m quite excited about the next book, Wonder, as it’s one that Z asked to buy for himself after they read it in class. It’s a newer book but has already landed on many “top” lists.

*****
Schedule – July through October
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)
September 15 – #46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)
September 30 – #55 All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (1951)
October 15 – #23 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (1989)

100 Chapter Books Project: Walk Two Moons

Walk_Two_Moons

Walk Two Moons (1994) by Sharon Creech is number 70 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. It’s the story of Salamanca Tree Hiddle and her journey across the midwest with her grandparents. While on the trip, she tells them about her recent life in the guise of telling them about her friend Phoebe. I’m going to forego my usual review structure this time because I had some complaints while reading this book and I want to talk about them (at least the ones that don’t require massive spoilers to tell). It is a Newbery Award winner and probably seemed really sensitive and progressive at the time. But now, 20 years later, I’m not sure that it deserves this place on a list of the top books for children.

Not too far into the book, I started feeling uncomfortable about the way that Native Americans were being portrayed in the story (a very “full of mystical wisdom and anger” portrayal). I did a quick Google search and came up with this very thoughtful discussion of it on the American Indians in Children’s Literature website. A few of the criticisms were: mixing up names from different tribes, someone claiming Indian heritage but then not knowing the name of their own tribe, using only white sources for Native myths (the author’s shortcoming, not within the story). I think, as readers, we are becoming more demanding that an author does not speak to a racial experience that they have not had, certainly not under the flimsy pretense of having had a possible Native ancestor (based on what a cousin said during childhood). I frequently found myself cringing and wishing that I was reading a story about an authentic Native experience instead.

There’s also a 1995 article from the New York Times about the book that mentions that it was “panned for its plot contrivances”. If some of those critics thought that it was a ridiculous coincidence that a girl (Sal) whose mother had left to “find herself” moves to a new town where her first friend (and subsequent best friend, Phoebe), within months, has a mother that does the exact same thing, then I agree with them. This drove me crazy. What was even worse, though, is the fact that Sal never once tells Phoebe about her own mother. What’s the point of having a (frankly unbelievable) shared experience if you aren’t going to SHARE it?!

The last major irritant for me was when the students (the girls are 13 so maybe 8th grade?) write summer journals for their English class. The teacher collects them and it’s only at that point that the kids realize that the teacher might read them. This is, of course, entirely realistic. What he actually ends up doing is far worse though and not remotely acceptable. He starts bringing out a couple of journals a day and READS FROM THEM TO THE CLASS! He hides whose journal it is and he changes the names but the kids can tell who would say what and about whom — because all he’s reading out is what one kid has said about another. He ruins friendships and budding romances and allows kids to be teased. It is awful. He only stops when one of the kids writes something that accuses one of his family members of a crime. There is barely an apology and it’s a completely pointless action anyway because none of it has anything to do with the plot. All it seems to do is to convince young readers to hide their feelings and to not trust teachers.

Anyway, this apparently was a contentious choice for the Newbery and I think it’s a contentious entrant on this list. Of the 100 books on the list, I believe that only two are written by an author of color and both are by the same person — Christopher Paul Curtis. This is extremely disappointing. I didn’t hate this book but I am absolutely sure that we could find much better books to speak to a variety of experiences.

Whew! I am really looking forward to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I know I saw it on the shelves tons of times when I was a kid but honestly can’t remember if it was one I ever read. I guess I’ll find out!

*****
Schedule – July through September
 
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)
September 15 – #46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)
September 30 – #55 All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor (1951)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Four-Story Mistake

FourStoryMistake5

The Four-Story Mistake (1942) is Elizabeth Enright’s third book on the Top 100 Chapter Books list: Gone-Away Lake at #47, The Saturdays at #75, and this one at #80. This is rather amazing to me as I had never even heard of Enright before this project.

What it’s about: This is the second book of four that Enright wrote about the Melendy family — Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver. The first book, The Saturdays, was about their life in the city (New York) and this book is about their move to the country during World War II. It’s a collection of random events through their first set of seasons in the new house, the one called The Four-Storey Mistake (it actually only has three stories with an attic and cupola on top).

Age level: Grades 3-5

Best part: The adventures were more fun (and realistic) in this book, especially those like finding secret rooms and treasures from the past in the house. Ice skating down a frozen river has been a fantasy of mine ever since reading Tom’s Midnight Garden and I always wanted to find treasures from the past in my homes but, unfortunately, have never lived in a house built earlier than the 1970s or 80s.

Worst part: There were a couple of parts that were a bit too dated — like the handyman giving twelve-year-old Rush a couple of cups of black coffee and then stating that their next step was for him to try chewing tobacco.

Verdict: Borrow

I liked this book and thought it was a fun read (listen, really) but there wasn’t that spark to make me love it. I liked the kids, their sibling interactions, and their individual talents and dreams. I am trying to come up with what was missing for me but I don’t think it was anything specific, just a general contentment while reading rather than excitement. It is still a good book to share with an avid reader though.

Next I’ll be reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I read my first Creech, Love That Dog, two years ago for this project (strangely, right before Gone-Away Lake) and really loved it so I have high hopes for this one!

*****
Schedule – June through September
 
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)
September 15 – #46 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (1990)