Claudia Kincaid was a careful and organised planner. She liked culture, but most of all she liked her creature comforts. So when she decided to run away from her middleclass suburban neighbourhood, she headed for the most elegant place in the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After careful consideration Claudia choose Jamie, her spendthrift 9- year-old brother, to accompany her on her great adventure. ‘They complemented each other perfectly. She was cautious (about everything but money) and poor; he was adventurous (about everything but money) and rich.’ The pair become wrapped up in a captivating art mystery and eventually meet the narrator of the book.
Konigsburg writes a very quirky narrative and has a great ear for dialogue. The eccentric exchange between brother and sister is captured perfectly throughout the story, the siblings being an odd couple, both with plenty of foibles but incredibly likeable. Claudia is quite precocious and loves to daydream, but manages to maintain a cautious grip on their education and her brother’s grammar. She has everything covered from where they sleep (in a 16th-century bed) to where they bathe (in the fountain by the restaurant). Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler narrates the story with occasional side comments to her lawyer, Saxonberg. At times her witty observations seem to interrupt the children’s droll dialogue.
This book was first published in 1967 and won the Newbery Medal, America’s top award for children’s literature. Apart from the odd archaic expression, the story still holds its simple and extremely humorous appeal. It is all the more relevant considering its obvious influence on the recent Golden Globe winning film ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’.