Having won the Newbery in 1968 and being a favorite with middle school English teachers, I am going to assume that everyone knows this book. The kids and I just listened to the audio book a few weeks ago and we all loved it. Last night, seeing the book laying by the computer, they decided to start it all over.
It is that good.
A large part of the appeal is the lack of adult supervision in this book. Somehow, Claudia and her younger brother Jamie, runaway to New York City together. They bring their instrument cases and bookbags packed with clothes and necessities. Claudia has planned out their runaway to a T. This picture is her mailing a letter to her parents that they are fine and not to worry. Claudia, although she is set on running away, does love her family. She just wants to be taken more seriously.
Claudia's brilliant plan is to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Completely brilliant. As a child, I always used to wonder what public spaces were like after the doors were locked and everyone went away. The Mixed Up Files is the ultimate child's fantasy. Well, real world based fantasy. Here, Claudia and Jamie choose which massive, antique bed they should sleep on. Surprisingly, these sumptuous seeming beds are completely uncomfortable.
The floor plan of the Met. Claudia has planned everything pretty well. When they get there, they enter and check their bags as they are supposed to. After scoping out the place for a few hours, they get their bags from the clerk and leave. In a little while, they enter again, claim they are on their way home from school and are meeting their mother in the children's museum on the other side, they convince the watchman to let them carry their book bags and instruments through the museum. Having planned on where to stash their bags already, they go ahead and stash their bags behind fabulously expensive displays.
Another part of the appeal is their familiarity to these fabulous object d'art that other people come from all over the world to see. To Claudia and James, these fabulous pieces become their background.
To trick the guards, they head to the bathrooms about ten minutes before closing. Then comes a long half hour of waiting, crouched down upon a toilet behind a partially closed bathroom stall door. After the doors are locked, the guards do a thorough (but not thorough enough) walk through of the museum and leave for the night.
The museum is now Claudia and Jamie's.
Inevitably, they become drawn into a mystery about a new display--a small angel. Was it or was it not sculpted by a young Michelangelo? They head to the public library to look a few things up. Being kids, they imagine themselves able to look at a few books about Michelangelo and a few books on determining the authenticity of art and suddenly know who sculpted the angel.
Claudia is bitterly disappointed by her lack of sudden certainty about the angel. Jamie, who had to look through all the books with pictures, has a lovely and informative time.
After a few days, the need to bathe becomes paramount. They have no option, but to bathe in the fountain in front of the museum restaurant. While bathing, they discover a new source of income for their dwindling fortunes--scooping up money from the bottom of the fountain.
To pass the time and remain inconspicuous, they attach themselves to the tail end of groups of kids on school field trips.
Discovering a faint mark on the angel, Claudia and Jamie are certain they have solved the mystery, but when they write to the museum (and rent a PO box so they can receive a reply) the museum tells them they know about the mark, and even thought it is Michelangelo's mark, some artists marked all their stone, some of which they gave to other people to use.
Claudia and Jamie are crushed by this. Finally, they decide their great adventure must come to an end. But Claudia has become so wrapped up in discovering the truth about the angel that she simply must visit Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, the person who donated the angel, before they head home. Although a recluse, Mrs. Frankweiler chooses to see them. After discussion, Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler decides she will trade with them. Their entire tale of running away to the Met for the chance of them rummaging through her mixed up files for an hour to find the truth about the angel. With only minutes left, they find what they are looking for. And then Claudia discovers why Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has not made public the proof she has of the artist--a secret like that is worth much more than setting everyone's mind at rest.
Secure in her knowledge, Claudia feels she has changed enough to go home.
She is a little confused as to why her parents are so anxious about her and Jamie getting home, though. Didn't she send them a note telling them not to worry?