From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
history museums pragmatic historian reading

How Did I Miss This Book as a Kid?

After getting off to a slow start, with my parents called in to school when I was in first grade because teachers were concerned I wasn’t picking up reading quickly enough, I have been a voracious reader most of my life. My memory is fuzzy on this point, but I think my interest in reading kicked into high gear around third grade and by the time I was in eighth grade I was an advanced reader. Which goes to show that schools need not get their undies in a bunch if all students aren’t tracking the same skills and interests at the same ages. Some of us just need a little more time. (By contrast, my older brother started reading when he was 4.)

I loved visiting the public library (still do) and my library card was well used. I checked out stacks of books at a time from the children’s section of our Carnegie Library.

The children’s area of the library was in the basement, accessible to the public by a spiral staircase, if you can believe it. If I think back to the space, there weren’t that many books in it. Within a few years, I had pretty much gobbled up most of what the children’s section had to offer. I had to get permission to check books out of the adult section upstairs, which also required people to walk up a second staircase inside the building, just inside the front door vestibule, which required climbing up a steep set of stairs on the outside of the building. (The spiral staircase was accessed off to the right of the entry vestibule.) I have no idea how people in wheelchairs used the library when I was a kid. Thankfully, the library was eventually redesigned, expanded, and made fully accessible on all levels with an elevator.

But I digress.

My childhood reading included the following books:

Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

Charley by Joan Robinson

A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle

The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene, a name used for various ghostwriters of the series

Cherry Ames series by various authors

Various books on crafts – I made a marionette by following the instructions in a book I found in the children’s section at the Carnegie Library.

The marionette I made as a kid using instructions from a book I found at the local Carnegie Library.
The marionette I made as a kid using instructions from a book I found at the local Carnegie Library.

Once I ventured into the adult section of the library, I read Sherlock Holmes and a lot of Agatha Christie (mysteries were obviously a favorite), plus whatever else struck my fancy. I read fiction and nonfiction with equal fervor and still do.

With all the reading I did as a kid, I was surprised to learn of a book that I had never heard of, one that was published the year I was born. Three museum colleagues mentioned the book recently with gushing praise. Apparently, the book affected them so much that it was a factor in them working in the museum field.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

The book is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I had to check it out. I turned to (where else) the Carnegie Library and ordered it. Once it arrived, it took me all of three days to read. I was enthralled. I thought I’d be able to predict what was happening, but I couldn’t, which is a sign of a good story for me. There was one point that, as a museum person, I thought the author had biffed, but the author explained it in a believable way and saved the story.

I can see how this book drew people to the museum field, but I remain baffled as to how I missed it while scouring the children’s section of the library all those years ago. This book won a Newbery Medal, for goodness’ sake!

No matter that I missed it then. Children’s books are worth reading at any age.

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