I first met E. L. Konigsburg, figuratively speaking, when I substituted in my daughter’s fifth grade class so her teacher could return to the states for her daughter’s wedding. We’d just moved to Kaiserslautern, West Germany. Her school, unimaginatively named Kaiserslautern Elementary Number 2, had a marvelous librarian who read voraciously and recommended books that matched their classes to teachers who read aloud. Anna’s teacher was one of those and had started From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I began substituting. The class begged for “one more chapter” which I conceded to do if they kept up with their work so they were not behind when their teacher returned. I did and they did, and we all became Konigsburg fans. Mrs. San Filipo was a bit chagrined that we finished the book before her return. She finished reading it in private and started another book with the class, also recommended by that wonderful librarian. I would benefit the next year from that librarian when I joined the faculty to teach second grade.
Fast forward ten or fifteen years, and I would find my personal favorite Konigsburg, The View from Saturday, for a read-aloud with my junior high students. We paused to reread and relish phrases like, “a huge old farmhouse that has had so many add-ons it looks like a cluster of second thoughts,” and, “His smile was as genuine as a Xeroxed signature.”
Ezra Jack Keats said every child should be able to find himself in a book, referring to his groundbreaking Black child, the protagonist in The Snowy Day. Sometimes children need to see differences in addition to culture or ethnicity to place themselves in a book. My students and I found ourselves in this book. Mrs. Olinski, like me, was the team quiz bowl sponsor. Like my students, half from the nearby military base, Mrs. Olinski’s “Souls” were smart and diverse in both personality and ethnicity. How often does an Indian student, not the Native American kind, like my own Indian student show up in a book? Mrs. Olinski’s disability confines her to a wheelchair. My disability – a drawl and continuing tendency to use “fixing” as a verb – rated accusations of hypocrisy from my students since I demanded standard English from them. Finding ourselves in this book made it a favorite read-aloud.
In 1968, E. L. Konigsberg won both the Newbery Medal for From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Newbery Honor book for Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, the only person to win both in one year. Twenty-nine years later, she won her second Newbery Medal for The View from Saturday.
E. L. Konigsberg died on April 19, 2013. I felt like I had lost a friend.