I remember when I was eleven. For a time, we lived with my grandparents in a three bedroom apartment. It was a year when I only attended one school (a milestone in my sixth grade year, in comparison to the four different school of the previous year). I moved to a new school (yet again) at the start of the year. And, in the wide school library, I discovered the author E. L. Konigsburg.
The first book I read by Konigsburg was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elisabeth. Yes, it inspired me to start a ‘witches club’ for, like Jennifer, I was new to the school and area and wanted to make my mark, knowing I would not fit in easily. Then I discovered From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A book I have savoured. A book that continues to inspire my love for museums (and my occasional wish to run away!). A book I have shared with many children, my own and others, that still inspires each generation.
What did I like about these books and this author?
I liked the honesty about the little things in life. The details. The conversations.
I liked how Konigsburg weaved stories of growth amid the realisation of adventure in the every day…and in the everydayness of the stories. Konigsburg had the ability to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary,
I enjoyed (enjoy) her descriptions. Plain. Unadorned. But never simplistic.
I appreciated, and do so even more today, her use of phrasing. A word here, a word there, clusters of text that made me catch my breath and know, inside, that my own story had been articulated.
The characters’ lives, in each of those two books, suggested normalcy. And normalcy was a perfume for me as a child, in my own mixed-up, muddled-up life.
The stories of Elisabeth, and Jennifer, and Claudia and Jamie, whispered to me that, maybe, one day, I could write too. I already scribbled stories and novellas in the back of my old school exercise books. Konigsburg’s writing encouraged me to believe that I, too, could write stories like her. Stories of childhood and life.
E. L. Konigsburg, like Cynthia Voigt, wrote of children and for children, with raw, compassionate honesty. With terse but haunting descriptions. Of plots and characters that echo life with that hint of more.
Because “Having words and explanations for things is too modern..” ( ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’).
What was one of your favourite childhood novels?