Get to Know Elaine Konigsburg
by Alexie Basil
You likely know Elaine Lobl Konigsburg as the creative mind behind several all-time favorite children’s novels, including The View from Saturday; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. Here are some interesting and fun facts about the Newbery Medal–winning author.
Whether making up characters from scratch or writing about historical figures—like she did in Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth—Elaine let the characters grow and blossom:
“Eleanor of Aquitaine and Leonardo da Vinci are outgrowths of my imagination. The incidents are true, but I make up conversations and personalities. The characters begin their lives as people that I may know, but they end their lives as characters!”
Elaine had three children—Paul, Laurie, and Ross. She explained that all of them had posed for illustrations in her books and even served as the inspiration for some characters. “Laurie was Claudia and Ross was Jamie in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”
Jan Devereux, the Vice Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, (for the 2018–19 term) writes in her blog about the time she had the opportunity to take a picture with her third grade classmate, Ross, and his mother for the local newspaper.
“I still have my autographed copies of Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, both signed ‘Elaine Konigsburg,’ not E. L., and each making reference to my professed admiration for Jennifer, the charismatic young ‘witch’ in the author’s first book.
“(In elegant cursive, she inscribed: ‘For Jan, Thanks for loving Jennifer.’ and ‘For Jan, With hopes that she will take Claudia and Jamie into her heart as she has Jennifer.’)”
In her autobiographical statement in the 2000 Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators explaining how she came up with the idea for The View from Saturday, Elaine wrote, “I had started writing a story about a young man named Ethan Potter who boards a school bus on the first day of sixth grade.”
But then, “The bus takes an unexpected turn and a strangely dressed young man sits down next to Ethan.”
After Julian—the strangely dressed boy—tells Ethan about his father’s B and B (bed and breakfast inn), Elaine recalled that she had a short story in her own “mixed-up files” about another boy named Noah whose mother wants him to write his grandparents a B-and-B letter—a “bread and butter” letter.
She soon thought to add Noah to the story as well. “I knew that kids would enjoy meeting one character and then two and three and four…and they would think that fitting all the stories together was part of the adventure.”
Considering that The View from Saturday won the John Newbery Medal and has been a teacher and student favorite for two decades since it was published, it seems that E. L. Konigsburg’s idea to tell the story from multiple points of view was a great one!
“Albert Einstein would be at the very top of my list,” Elaine said. She would also have invited Eleanor of Aquitaine, Michelangelo (“He just creates such an emotional impact”), Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare (because she “would like the interplay between [them both],” and Eleanor Roosevelt.
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