E.L. Konigsburg, 1930 – 2013

Posted April 20th, 2013

E.L. KonigsburgFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler on our car radio, on a long trip with my husband. We usually talk a lot during our trips, but this time we were more interested in listening to Jill Clayburgh tell us a story, the story of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, who ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City … and lived there. I remember sitting in the car for half an hour when we finally arrived at the conference. We needed to hear the end of the story. Ever since then, we talk about where we’d hide out and live in each museum we visit. Sometimes I think about sitting on a bench at our local museum for days, observing how the light changes on a sculpture, living inside of a painting. This book is the favorite of so many people that I know my reactions are not mine alone.

Reading A View from Saturday touched my heart. I had grown up with kids like this. The notion of an Academic Bowl was so appealing that I wanted to slip back to my childhood, go to that school, and be on the team. Elaine Lobl Konigsburg told stories about real children, kids that many of us could side with, laugh with, cry with, and not feel alone.

Those two books won Newbery Awards. The books continue to be read by generations of kids. They’re good books.

I loved her “true” story in When I Was Your Age, Original Stories about Growing Up. I know middle school teachers who use that compilation of author’s “true” biographies each year because it engages kids with books and authors. Elaine Konigsburg’s childhood took place many years before mine but I felt as though she had lived at my house. I was an only child. She had sisters. Her sisters became my sisters.

Such was the power of this writer who pulled her readers firmly into the worlds she created, book after book after book. Ms. Konigsburg died on April 19, 2013. She was born on February 10, 1930. That means she shared her imagination with us for 83 years.

Ms. Konigsburg was the first in her family to get a college degree, which she earned in chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she began graduate school in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, with her husband David, where she taught science at the Bartram School for Girls. She had three children. When the third child entered school, Ms. Konigsburg wrote Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth in 1967. It won a Newbery Honor the same year that From the Mixed-Up Files won the Newbery Medal. Other books included A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, The Second Mrs. Giocanda, and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, each of them with a faithful following.

Thank you Ms. Konigsburg, for giving us characters and stories and notions that make us better people. Your books are well-loved.

“Some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up and touch everything. If you never let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you.” — E.L. Konigsburg