When I learned of E.L. Konigsburg’s passing earlier this year, I considered reviewing what may be her best known work: The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She earned the Newbery Award in 1968 for this book and the Newbery Honor that same year for Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, (which, I must confess, I have never read). I decided, however, to take a closer look at her other Newbery winner (1997), The View from Saturday, an off-beat story about friendship, loyalty and respect.
Konigsburg melds the stories of five unlikely companions when Mrs. Olinski chooses her sixth grade Academic Bowl team. After a car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down, Mrs. Olinski left teaching for ten years. Upon returning, she was faced with the task of forming a group of four sixth graders to participate in academic competitions. No one expected her to choose Noah, Nadia, Ethan and Julian, and even she did not anticipate beating all the seventh and eighth grade teams in the region and make it to the state finals. While not the brightest students in their school, each discovers that the good and bad experiences they have had help them to answer obscure questions other teams cannot. They also learn that friendship comes from the most unusual places. English tea at 4 pm every Saturday seals their bond – with each other and with the teacher who realizes that she needs them as much as they need her.
Told from the point of view of the different characters in the story, the book’s short chapters move freely between the past and the present. Gradually the reader discerns the connections that link these five unique personalities, like pieces to a puzzle. Although the outcome of the competition is predictable, the team’s journey has many twists and turns. So why the reservations? A few mildly off-color (and totally unnecessary) remarks at the beginning of the story make this book questionable for the younger end of its intended audience. For middle school students, however, it could be an entertaining read about the social ups and downs of those pre-teen years.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.