Most children who run away don’t run to some place; they run from some place. Claudia, though, was too classy to run away to just any old woods somewhere. No, she thought and she planned and then she followed her plan. She felt that she needed to take an accomplice and so she invited her younger brother, Jamie, who had a more typical picture of what running away should mean. Jamie packed what Claudia told him to but then added a compass. The two children lived in suburban Connecticut but they ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in the 1960s when the Automat was still a popular restaurant that served food via vending machines instead of using waiters.
They discovered that living in the Metropolitan Museum was possible. They shared Marie Antoinette’s four poster canopied bed. They bathed in the fountain with the nude statues and they avoided the watchmen by hiding in the restrooms squatting on top of the toilets so that their feet didn’t show but neither did their heads. During the hours that the museum was open, Jamie and Claudia mingled with the crowds of school children on field trips. The most serious threat to their success was when Jamie’s third grade class arrived at the museum on a field trip.
Once the children had figured out how to manage daily life in the museum, it could have become routine in spite of the huge amount of art to investigate and to memorize. Happening on a mystery rescued them from boredom. It also gave their adventure a serious purpose. A statue of an angel had been donated to the museum and it was put on display because it was rumored to have been carved by Michelangelo. Claudia was a relentless task-master in her desperation to find the proof which would solve the mystery. She forced Jamie to leaf through pages and pages at the public library. The research eventually led the children back to Connecticut to the home of a wealthy old woman, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
If you want to vicariously experience the limitless energy of a pair of creative well behaved but spunky children, read this book. The story is a great introduction to art history for children too.