Top critical review
Hero worship at all costs
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2018
I have been checking the list of the Newberry Award Books and once again came upon the Mixed-Up Files . Several Ice Ages ago I was teaching American fifth graders on a US military base in Germany. The children had the opportunity to order paperback books once a month through the Scholastic Magazine. At one of these occasions half the class ordered this particular book. I was a cautious (suspicious?) teacher and read the book overnight before I passed them out the next morning. Frankly, I was shocked about the lack of ethical consciousness, about the downright immoral behavior of the children and the rancid ideas presented in the fancy garb of hero-worship. It was not a book fit for growing children. I could not really understand how knowledgeable and professional people could ever think that it was good enough for children, let alone deserving a distinguished award that used to ensure the quality of a book.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we had the most creative and character-building discussions about the plot, the characters and their motivations. I will not share the debates or the essays written later by the students (and frankly I have forgotten half of it) but would mention just some of the main points of our conclusion:
1.The plot is fascinating and often humorous.
2.. The children were inventive and used surprising skills at their research; they were original
3. A family is a cooperative unit and each member must accept some tasks. Running away from responsibilities (as they have done) is not an option.The concept of family unit and the give-and take was destroyed
3.The children did not respect cultural treasures; they used the valuable collections in the museum, such as the bed, at their convenience The problem born from this attitude is obvious: as a teacher try to take the class on a study tour to a museum or a palace and insist that they do not touch the paintings or displays! ’Why can’t I just touch it?’ They would whine. ’After all, Claudia slept in a royal bed!’. You must admit that their argument has a point, although the official museum guard would hardly be impressed nor ready to accept it.
4.They collected the money from the fountain, which of course was not theirs—they were stealing
5 They used the fountain to take their bath--again absolute disrespect for public property
6. Claudia took her brother along, only because he had some money—used false pretenses, was conniving and calluos dishonest
7. Not caring what sort of worries they caused with their disappearance – they were unfeeling, unloving and irresponsible
8. Claudia’s brother was a little cheating individual, who enriched himself by questioanble card games
9. After having all the fun and committing a number of unacceptable ethical and moral slips, and showing behavior of which few parents would be proud, they returned home in glory as celebrated heros, thus the missteps were not just forgotten, but rewarded and glorified. The discovery they made absolved them from the consequences of misbehavior. Success and fame took precedence over character and decency. Granted, this is often so in the adult world —but must we train our children in this aberrant role?
Another Ice Age passed since (or seemed to have passed) and I suppose the book is outdated and no longer read by children. Then why make a comment about it at this late date? Perhaps because I am old and almost by definition conservative. I believe that the message in the book is all wrong and destructive. During my long years of teaching I saw a gradual change in the behavior and morality of youngsters. Obviously this is a complex and worldwide problem and therefore it is impossible (and foolish) to point to a single factor and scream „There you have it! This is the reason for the worrisome change.” But it is my holy conviction that more care should be given what kind of books are handed to children, because books, even today when they are fighting a losing battle against games and gadgets, have a powerful influence on the developing character. This issue is as up--to-date as this morning’s paper and it should concern us all. I saw sadly that even the negative comments did not often remark on these glaring issues-- and writers of the five star comments did not seem to consider it at all. It was also interesting to read the „comments on the comments” section-- and notice the almost vicious, odten insulting attacks on writers, whose opinion was different and who were concerned about the basic issues. I suppose the judgement of the book will remain controversial and some will always love it and some will never forgive its shortcomings. My students gained a great deal by reading the book, or rather by the discussion following it, -- but in a way that was not intended by the author or by the Newberry team that awarded this basically destructive book. JPB, Author and reader.