E. L. Konigsburg’s death last week, at the age of eighty-three, provoked a special kind of reaction. The loss of a collective piece of our childhood can be hard to articulate, because the connection is primal, the feelings and memories intensely personal. You remember the thrill of hearing From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler read aloud in fourth grade, and reading Father’s Arcane Daughter over the summer under a tree, or Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth in the school library. There is the delight of recalling her strong, interesting characters, many of them outsiders coping with realistic childhood situations. There is the unpreachy inclusion of history and culture. There are the shockingly uncommercial titles. And, of course, the bone-deep weirdness. (To anyone who disagrees, revisit Up from Jericho Tel. I did.) Like all great children’s writers, Konigsburg never patronized her readers. But she did even more than that: she not only encouraged breaking from the ordinary, but modeled it.
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