One of my favorite books as a elementary aged student was the Newberry Award Winning, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Looking back on the book, it is obvious that it was written in a different time for a different audience, because the hero and heroine run away from home, walk around the city of New York by themselves and never seem to be in any danger.
One of the classic points of this book is how E. L. Konigsburg has the children face adult sized problems with intelligence and grace.
How did this book inspire me? For one thing, it provoked in me a love of museums. The children run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. If you’re going to run away, why not sleep in a Queen’s bed? I also loved how responsible the children are; budgeting their money, and bathing in museum fountains.
To this day, when the Field Museum has sleepover parties, (they do by the way), I dream about going and pretending that I am Claudia.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know how much I love Madeleine L’Engle. One of my deepest regrets is that I never made it to one of her many writing conferences at Wheaton College. My love affair with all things “Madeleine” began when I was in about sixth grade. My mother and I were on a quest to read all of the Newberry Award winners, and I came upon Madeleine’s A Wrinkle In Time.
I don’t know if any book, other than the Bible of course, has had such a strong impact on my life as this book did. First of all, I was going through a very ugly stage. I could completely relate to Meg Murray, who had nondescript mousy brown hair, thick glasses and braces. Minus the braces, it could have been a description of me. Not only is her appearance insignificant, but she feels that she is inadequate in every way. She doesn’t do particularly well in school, although she is a math whiz, and she isn’t good at sports or music. She feels completely useless.
Much of that changes during the book. Meg is able to solve a deep problem for her family, to have a popular boy show interest in her and most importantly to she finds value in who she is. The characters in the novel are quaint and lovable, and Madeleine’s search for God comes through in the pages.
As an adult fan of her work, I’ll never forget reading about her struggle to get this book published. It was her first major work for children. She was about to turn forty, and was wondering whether she should give up writing and concentrate on her family. (Sound familiar anyone?) On her birthday, she received a letter from a publisher. It was yet another rejection. She went on a walk to cry and talk to God. “God, why all these rejection slips? You know it’s good; I wrote it for you.” It was only through an acquaintance that she was able to have her Newberry Award winning book published.
Although the book became part of a series, the books each stand on their own.
I will be exploring other Madeleine Books in the next few weeks, do you have a favorite?