Monday, May 18, 2009

good then, good now: mrs. basil e frankweiler and the newberry challenge

Last week, I decided to reread the classic From the Mixed-Up Files from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg, which I hadn't even looked at since it was homework sometime around third grade. I loved it then. The description of the kids hiding from the museum guards by standing on the toilet bowls stayed with me particularly. Other details as well, like the tally of expenses, the bath taken in the museum fountain and Michelangelo's imprint on the velvet resurfaced with startling clarity. Every kid imagines what it would be like if they ran away; Konigsburg took that endeavor seriously and imparted to children a story of intellectual curiosity, self-reliance and practicality. What I'm amazed I somehow forgot was how funny it was; the underlying conceit of the entire story is that it is actually a very long letter written by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to her lawyer, who she sporadically admonishes for his various ignorances. And the letter itself contains pitch-perfect dialog between two, clever suburban kids, whose characters are the perfect confluence of incredibly specific and universal personality traits. Perfectly crafted, wildly enjoyable, I love From the Mixed-Up Files from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler just as much as I did the first time.
Which got me to wondering how many of the Newbery winners still had shelf life left.
Which got me to the idea of reading all the Newbery Winners.
I printed out the list today. It's a lot of books. The first Newbery was given in 1922 to
The Story of Mankind by Henvrik Willem Von Loon. 87 years later, and Neil Gaiman got his for The Graveyard Book. I have only read eleven of the titles of the eighty seven, which leaves (this will be the most math that will ever appear in this blog) seventy six titles. I can't imagine that all will hold up as well as the mixed-up files. Several, such as Daniel Boone, have gone out of print. And I don't intend to reread all the titles that I have read. Some I read so recently that the point would be moot, but others I just don't care to. If I read one a week, it'll take more than a year. If I read one a month it'll take over six years. I'm not exactly sure how to pace this, but one way or the other, I've got a lot of reading to do.

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