E.L. Konigsburg (1930-2013)

I’m a couple of weeks late with this one, but I wanted to mark the passing of E. L. Konigsburg, the author of a couple of children’s books that made a great impression on me. I wanted to expand upon some thoughts I included in a post about the children’s books that were important to me I wrote a few years ago:

Really, any book by Konigsburg could be on the list. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of the few, but important books that my mother and I both read as children and both use as a common point of reference.

Now that I’m a little older—though far away from having kids myself—I understand a little better the simple pleasure that my mother must have taken in being able to share books that had been important to her as a child with me. As I’ve grown, the things that we’ve read  has drifted far apart, but for this short period, she understood something about what was going into my head and a frame of reference for my response to it. There are not many books that are both cornerstones of our persons, but The Mixed-Up Files is one of them.
As important as that book is to my relationship with my mother, one of Konigsburg’s later books made an even deeper impression:

The View from Saturday holds a special place in my heart. It is one story told from the perspectives of four 6th graders and their teacher. At various times, I have felt like all of them. It is a commentary on education and schools. It is a stubborn hold out against the fast paced lives that we all live. It bridges experience with knowledge.

…which is mostly platitude. TVFS is all of those things, but I think the reason that I come back to it over and over again is that it’s also a tribute to a certain kind of friendship, borne from a certain way of relating to other people. The four sixth-graders are Ethan, Noah, Nadia, and Julian, and this passage is when their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, is first introduced to their weekly Saturday afternoon tea-taking:

They were talking among themselves and drinking tea. They did not interrupt one another, Mrs. Olinski thought, how unusual. There were nods and smiles and obvious pleasure in one another’s company. Mrs. Olinski though, how unusual to find four sixth graders who listen to one another sympathetically, unselfishly, How curious. How courteous. Mrs. Olinski thought, when people come to tea, they are courteous. She thought, I believe in courtesy. It is the way we avoid hurting people’s feelings.

“Obvious pleasure in one another’s company” became so fundamental to the way that I thought about friendship, and what I wanted from friends. And that this was a mixed-gender group was important to me too, though I did not understand quite why at the time. I think I understood at some level that while I liked and had male friends, a part of me also wanted to be friends with girls in the way that girls were friends with one another. I thank Konigsburg for expressing so well the power of being present and listening, and I have been lucky to have friendships like those she modeled for me.

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