The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 23, 2013

Author kept her hometown in view

Konigsburg wrote for small-town kids

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — Margaret Orchard places E.L. Konigsburg’s young person’s book “The View From Saturday” on her list of about 10 that she goes back to and rereads periodically.

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is number one, but I’d put it (‘A View From Saturday’) at number two or three,” the librarian at Stey-Nevant Public Library, Farrell, said Monday.

Just talking about the book got Orchard excited about it all over again.

“I want to go home and read it,” she said.

The impetus behind Orchard’s discussion of Konigsburg was not an event she had been looking forward to: Konigsburg’s death. The author died Friday at age 83.

However, Konigsburg left more than a little of herself at Stey-Nevant. Konigsburg lived in Farrell from about seventh grade through her graduation in 1947, when she was the valedictorian of Farrell High School.

Konigsburg, who lived in Florida for much of her adult life, was last in Farrell in the early ’90s, and Orchard would send her copies of books to be signed.

Those signed books are generally circulated at Stey-Nevant, and a painting Konigsburg made of the cover of her 1982 book, “Journey to an 800 Number,” is displayed in the library. The painting initially was a gift to the school district, but a past school administrator thought more people would see it at the library, Orchard said.

Whenever someone needs to do a report on an author or a person from Farrell, Orchard routinely gets out the yearbook to show Konigsburg’s high school photo and the signed books.

“I’ve always tried to promote her,” Orchard said. “I’m sure we’ll do a display on her (at the library.)”

Konigsburg said she wanted to write books that a typical small-town kid could relate to, the kind of books she could not find when she was growing up.

“My children were my first editors,” Konigsburg, who had three children with her husband, David, told The Herald some years ago. “I’d read them what I had written when they came home from school.”

Orchard said Konigsburg succeeded in reaching kids throughout the years.

“I love her books,” she said. “The themes are always topical and useful for today.”

They tell stories of adventures that children “could actually have or identify with,” Orchard said.

Konigsburg’s most famous book, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler” – one of two that earned her the Newbery Medal – is about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, taking coins from a fountain to buy food. Konigsburg told The Herald in 1995 that one of the kids, a girl named Claudia, wanted to teach her parents “a lesson in Claudia appreciation.”

“The View From Saturday,” her other Newbery Medal winner, tells the story of a team of sixth-graders and their partly paralyzed teacher who compete in the Academic Games. The story resonates with Orchard because it is about bullying, self-perception and overcoming odds.

“I think every kid should read this book,” Orchard said.

Aside from her books being an introduction to “good writing and good literature,” the author’s lifestyle also is worth emulating, Orchard said.

“She painted her own book covers and she was so well-rounded and had so many other interests beside writing,” Orchard said.