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One of the many reasons that The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a great museum for kids is that it is the setting for two of the best-loved children’s books of all time: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Lightning Thief.
I first discovered From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a story about a pair of siblings who run away to the Metropolitan Museum, as a recent college grad, while working as a paralegal in a big New York City law firm. I had decided to restart my children’s book collection, a casualty of too many overseas moves, and wanted to enlarge it by soliciting my friends’ childhood favorites.
One of my co-workers, a recent Yale graduate, was a native New Yorker, who grew up in Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side. She was a girl of privilege, accustomed to the finer things in life, who could truly appreciate that some kids aren’t cut out to run away to the woods. Some children require 5-Star lodging, and nothing less the priceless furnishings of a world-class residence will do. I guess it’s no surprise that this friend’s favorite children’s book was the E.L. Konigsburg classic.
Visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I have many fond memories of visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a young adult, but it’s a different experience visiting with kids. You’re forced to slow down, and find ways to make the works of art accessible and interesting.
The Met provides lots of programs and self-guided tour material to help you find the right hook, including The “Mixed-Up Files” Issue of Museum Kids. You can use this guide to plan what to see within the overwhelmingly vast collections of the Met.
On this visit, I used this guide and the suggestions in Storybook Travel, but added my own flare.
Stopping At The Cloisters
You might think it’s too much to visit two art museums in one day, and you’re right. Sometimes I go overboard in my travel plans, but it works for me.
Since we were driving into the city, on a day trip in May, I couldn’t resist a stop at the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum’s uptown branch, and one of the few places in NYC that offers free parking. I wanted a peek at the gardens, and this seemed like a good way to introduce our kids to the Renaissance art that provides the mystery in The Mixed-Up Files.
Our first stop was in the Garden Cafe. After three hours on the road, I was desperately in need of a cup of coffee, and the kids needed a little pick-me-up as well. Not that I needed an excuse to sit by the garden.
I had the sense to keep our time at the Cloisters brief as I didn’t want to overwhelm the kids. I told them we would just stay long enough to find an angel like the one that inspired Claudia. Surprisingly, we had no luck finding an angel sculpture, but we recreated scenes in the book as we visited a chapel, and later snuck into a student tour.
As I said, we didn’t stay long, and we were soon on our way to the main branch of the Metropolitan Museum, where parking isn’t free, but it’s convenient.
Following Claudia’s Footsteps
I like to let the kids lead the way in museums, so I handed over the Met’s Mixed-Up Files Issue, and did my best to keep up as the kids ran to find the exhibits mentioned in the book. They soon discovered the urn and sarcophagus where the runaway children hid a trumpet and satchels:
While the beds that were featured in the book are no longer on display, this bed was appropriately opulent:
Mostly, we ended up exploring the Egyptian Wing. Even though it wasn’t part of the book, we visited the oh so dramatic Temple of Dendur. Afterwards, we lost ourselves in learning about the Egyptian artifacts, just like the children in The Mixed-Up Files, even slipping into the recessed rooms to escape detection.
No tour of the Mixed-Up Files is complete without a look at the blue silk chair that inspired the book. When we found the chair, we read aloud the passage from E.L. Konigsberg in the Mixed-Up Files Museum Kids where she tells us that she got the idea for the story while visiting the Met with her children, and noticing a popcorn kernel on a blue silk chair in the Hotel de Varengeville period room.
This is also a good spot to stop and discuss story inspirations, before wandering and searching for our own story starters.
Usually, when we explore the Mixed-Up Files setting, we include a visit to the Medieval Armor exhibit. This time, I forgot about the armor, in favor of a more current armor, that of the Costume Exhibit – The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion.
This didn’t have anything to do with the Mixed-Up Files, but it was interesting, and I knew it would appeal to my daughter.
An Army Marches On It’s Stomach
I find that these kinds of expeditions always go better when everyone is well fed. The Met offers several options for feeding the family, from the diverse options in cafeteria, to the very elegant cafe near Greek and Roman exhibits.
On this day, we chose to dine outside of the Met. Sitting on the front steps, we enjoyed hot dogs and shish kabob, while listening to a jazz band.
Later, we left our car parked at the Met, to walk through Central Park, before heading west, to go to my kid’s favorite NYC destinations – Dylan’s Candy Bar and Serendipity 3, home of the frozen hot chocolate: