- Virginia Johnson
Elaine Lobl Konigsburg has always loved reading. As a girl, she discovered the magic of The Secret Garden and learned about life in a middle-class English family from Mary Poppins. These stories became part of her childhood, and, as she relates in her excellent book of essays, TalkTalk: A Children's Author Speaks to Grown-ups, classic stories become a bridge between today's children and earlier generations.
What she was looking for as a child and did not find, was a reflection of her life in a Pennsylvania mill town. In classic books, the mothers were just that. The women in Elaine's neighborhood worked as maids for extra money. In classic tales, there were maids, but they were always on the sidelines, and the classroom rolls were filled with Smith's, Jones', Edwards', and the like. Where were the Ravinsky's, Machotka's, and Spinelli's?
This made her think, and Elaine was a girl who filed away experiences for later use. She did well in school and was the first of her family to go to college. But she did not major in English or creative writing. Being a practical young lady from a practical family, she majored in chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University. "Girl-chemist" was an intellectually challenging job and paid well. It was the minute details that did her in. Just add so much of this to exactly so much of that, and it will all work out, yes? Not so for Elaine who blew up the sink more than once.
She had married David Konigsburg, a psychologist, and they moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Were it not for the dratted lab work, she might have stayed a girl chemist, but she found teaching chemistry to be a good way to put her training to use.
When the youngest of her three children began school, Elaine started writing. She decided to ignore the household chores until the afternoon so she could get a good block of time for writing every day. What did she write? Certainly not chemistry textbooks. Elaine decided to fill a gap for her children, to write about kids who grew up in the suburbs, just like them.
Her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, won the Newbery Honor right out of the gate in 1968. Jennifer… is a quirky and thoughtful story of two friendless girls who find that getting to know and trust one another can be a spell-binding experience.
In that same year, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler took home the top award, the Newbery Medal. From the Mixed Up Files has become a classic that succeeds in capturing the ordinary boredom and yearning for an extraordinary adventure of suburban kids everywhere. Claudia is fed up with her family, although she can't remember exactly why. Running away from home is the classic solution, she believes. So, she takes her favorite brother along for a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that doesn't end at closing time.
Over the years, Elaine Lobel (E. L.) Konigsburg has continued to write books that intrigue children. They are not entirely comfortable stories. They poke, they pry, and ultimately ring true to their characters' emotions. In The View from Saturday, another Newbery winner (1997), she sketches four nonconformist, shy, and brilliant friends who combine to make an unbeatable Academic Bowl team.
Elaine's latest, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, finds twelve-year-old Margaret Rose Kane in need of rescue from a super swell summer camp where the catty meanness of her cabin mates and equal cruelty of the staff prompts her to totally shut down her participation. "I prefer not to" becomes her mantra. She comes to her free-thinking views by way of her proudly eccentric family. Margaret's Hungarian-born uncles have created towers of exotic beauty in their backyard for 45 years. Instead of fending off mosquitoes and snide remarks at Camp Talequa, she must stop the town council and local real estate developers who don't understand the towers' beauty.
The author's essays demonstrate her quick mind and are most enjoyable. Mature readers might try Talktalk: A Children's Book Author Speaks to Grown-Ups for an intense look at Elaine's life and writing. A shorter essay, more appropriate for young students, is found in the collection, Author Talk.
In addition to her modern fiction, Elaine has written two critically acclaimed historical pieces. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver finds the great English queen Eleanor of Aquitaine waiting none too patiently for her dearly departed husband at the gates of heaven. The Second Mrs. Gioconda delves into the true identity of the Mona Lisa.
Click here for a list of all the books by E. L. Konigsburg owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
Articles suitable for school research may be found in our online databases: Literature Resource Center (Contemporary Authors, Dictionary of Literary Biography) and Biography Resource Center (Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Contemporary Authors, St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, and St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers)
These resources are also available online:
E. L. Konigsburg's Interview Transcript
Answers to all those terrific questions: where does she get her ideas, does she use real-life people as the models for her characters, did she always want to be a writer, feelings on censorship, and more.
Faq for Kids = From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler
Because kids ask them constantly, the museum staff has kindly provided answers to the questions:
"Where is the bed Claudia and Jamie slept in?
Is it possible to spend the night in the Museum?
Where in the Museum is the statue by Michelangelo?"
Meet E.L. Konigsburg
A plainly interesting biographical note that includes the author's advice to writers.
Web English Teacher
Enrichment activities to accompany her two Newbery winners, The View from Saturday and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.