From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

I have a child who is not “into” art. He says he isn’t creative and he doesn’t have any imagination.  When we started homeschooling, I got all the bits and pieces for Story of the World, Vol. 1.  But he never wanted to do any crafts or coloring.  He complained loudly through each activity as if getting out modeling clay or paint was some cruel new torture.  He just wanted to read the story and move on.

I am always on a quest to bring out his creativity.  He will draw, but only geometric shapes.  He’ll put together Lego, but only sets with directions. He will color and do puzzles, but not much free-form.  And I get it.  I’m kind of like that.  I like cross-stitch and quilting because I can get clear-cut directions.

But I see this as a short-falling and I think it is one of the reasons why he is a reluctant writer.  I would like to help by exposing him to more art.  Unfortunately, my planned field trip to a local art gallery went terribly.  We were supposed to meet three other homeschoolers for the first time and ended up being stood up by all three.  The result was kids who were cranky before we even started in the museum.  They rushed through to “finish” and get to lunch.

So when I began pre-reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I saw another chance for some art exposure.

1. Books: The book is about a sister and brother who run away to have an adventure and stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City.  I love the descriptions of the museum and the way Claudia (our protagonist) chose it because it is comfortable with furniture, good hiding places, and ways to keep oneself tidy and proper.

And of course I want to pair my fiction with some non-fiction.  We recently finished Lives of Presidents by Kathleen Krull, so I thought that this would be a good time to start Lives of Artists.  We like Krull’s writing because while she writes for kids, she isn’t shy about pointing out shortcomings in the subjects of her biographies.  I got so excited about this, we actually almost finished this book before I had gotten my items from Amazon to finish the box. Each artist featured  was well done, and the end of each bio had a short list of some of their famous works.  We used my laptop to look at images of each piece and discuss them.  Before I even started reading Mixed-Up Files, my son started showing more interest in art.  Yesterday, he woke up and drew a picture in his sketchbook without my saying anything to prompt it.  And later in the day when we rediscovered his superhero cape (that I made for this 5th birthday), he got out construction paper and designed a mask to go with the cape.  My mission to bring out his creativity his already beginning to work!

2. Games:  We already own Dice Heist, and it is a great partner to this book.  The game is based on the premise that you are trying to beat other thieves for the chance to steal valuable works of art from four different museums around the world, Including the Met.  Because we already own it, I wanted another game. I decided to go with Professor Noggin’s History of Art to motivate us to learn a little more art history.

3. Snacks: Claudia and Jamie are very fastidious about what they eat throughout the book.  Claudia wants to be as proper as possible, but Jamie makes sure they stick to a budget.  If you know of a place where the vending machine dispenses more than just candy, why not give your kids a budget and have them figure out the healthiest lunch they can buy from the vending machine.  Or if you can take a field trip to a museum, treat them to a snack or lunch from the museum cafe and make sure to pretend you are in a fancy restaurant by using your best manners and crooking your little finger.,  Have fun with it.

4. Activities:  In the book, Claudia and Jamie discover a clue to the mystery sculpture’s whereabouts by noting an impression of a sculptor’s mark pressed into velvet where the statue had stood.  When you get to this part, you can have your kids create their own artist’s mark on modeling, wax or soap.  Carving tool kits for these projects are very reasonably priced and can add to your art supplies.  I purchased one for my kids and anticipate being able to use it for multiple future projects.

If you have younger children and it’s summer, you could also have them recreate the scene where Jamie and Claudia discover “income” in the museum’s fountain. Pull out a wading pool and put an assortment of change on the bottom. Blind fold the kids and see who can distinguish quarters from nickles from the pennies and dimes just by the feel on the bottom of the pool.  Bonus: now you have a place for kids and pets to cool off all summer, and if you combine the pool and your new carving kit, you have an easy clean-up for making watermelon sculptures.

5. Crafts:  Another book I’m adding to our morning basket while we read Mixed-Up Files is Michelangelo for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities.   It is both a biography and instructions for crafts including the classic “Sistine Chapel technique” of taping paper to the underside of a table and painting (or coloring) from below. I’m not sure which of the activities my kids will pick to do, but each chapter has a least one that corresponds with the information in chapter, and some chapters have up to four different activities.  The carving tools and soap went in our box, as well as gelatine and powdered sugar to make sugar sculptures.  Making paint also caught my eye, but my kids’ will have to choose for themselves.  Thankfully, most things are done with easy to gather household and grocery store items.

6. Trinkets and Toys:  My son loves puzzles, my daughter, not so much. While this puzzle of the Sistene chapel ceiling doesn’t complement the book, it does help to create a bit more of an artist study on the side.

7. Movie:  I’ve never seen the movie for this book, but I like knowing there are several version to choose from.  The Hideaways is an adaptation starting Ingrid Bergman and Mrs. Frankweiler and another version was made with Lauren Becall.  I’m not going to link that one because it is only available on Amazon as a ridiculously expensive used DVD.  But keep an eye out for it in thrift stores or at the library.  If you just want to have fun and talk about spending the night at the museum, A Night at the Museum in another option.  Just be aware that it is not about an art museum.

I try to have my kids watch a documentary or a documentary series every week.  They retain so much of what they watch and get excited about concepts I would otherwise find hard to introduce.  As we read the novel and about Michelangelo, we’ll be watching episodes of Raiders of the Lost Art on Netflix. We’ve watch the first two episodes and I have been impressed with the depth of information. I will probably bring up some coloring to do while we watch though, as the pace can be a bit sluggish and it’s nice to have a fidget activity to help stay in engaged. Two seasons are available, and  IMDB has a review of the series for you to glance at.

8. Extended Education:  This book has made me want to plunge down about a million different rabbit holes.  Obviously, I’ve chosen to focus on Michelangelo and make it a bit of an artist study, but I’m also trying to engage my kids in general art history and discussion about various techniques, mediums, and styles  If you want to do a full art course, I’ve heard good things about the artist studies from Confessions of a Homeschooler. It is $10 for the downloadable lesson plans, plus extra books, so you’ll need to decide if that is something you want to include in your box.

The Met itself is a great source of free information to use to supplement this box.  You can explore Met resources for kids online at MetKids or print out their brochure that specifically ties into Mixed-Up Files.  It talks about many of the artifacts referenced in the book and gives more background information.  And if you want to read about the story behind the story, this article from has been popping up on my Facebook feed.

9. Field Trips:  Field trips are the most obviously “duh” items for a box, usually.  If you live in the NE United States, you should probably just try to go to the Met.  Everyone else, do a little research into what art museums are near you.  I recently took my kids to our local art history museum (which is quite good), but it was a bust.  So, I’m trying again, but this time we’ll go to a modern art sculpture exhibit that is just down street from us.

If you don’t have a local art museum you can go to, you might try seeing if there are any art galleries or studios in your area.  Or do that first if you think your kids will enjoy it more.

Do you have something that you think would be a great addition to this box?  Tell us in the comments!


2 thoughts on “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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  1. This is amazing! You have done a really nice thorough job putting this together and I am thrilled to have found this site as a resource.
    Is there a reason you do not add a pinterest social media icon?


    1. Thank you, we are so glad you’ve found inspiration here. I didn’t have a good answer to your question about Pinterest, other than that I just hadn’t tinkered enough in our settings. But there is no time like the present, so I just went and added that button. Let me know if it gives you any difficulty. I’m still no expert at this WordPress thing.


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