Remember I was grousing a few posts back about feeling generally slumpy and wanting a book that would lift my sagging spirits just as well as a slice of Banana Coconut Cake? Well, I found the magic book and I read it and it was delightful. Masterpiece, by Elise Broach is darling. I don’t think I’ve ever called a book “darling” before, but I know that this is exactly the right word for this story. I cannot imagine a child who would not enjoy this one. It seems made for reading aloud (and for lifting spirits), to be enjoyed particularly by sleepy headed kids all tucked up in bed. The story is just complex enough to be satisfying, but is easy to follow, has a cute and imaginative premise and to sweeten the deal, we’ve got some charming ink illustrations by the talented Kelly Murphy.
Masterpiece is the story of Marvin, a beetle who happens to be a gifted artist, and James, an eleven-year-old boy who feels decidedly ordinary. Marvin lives with James, under the Pompaday’s kitchen sink. They may share an apartment, but they have never met, until James receives a pen-and-ink set from his artist father for his birthday and the beetle is inspired to draw the boy a tiny picture. What Marvin produces is incredible – detailed and delicate and very small. James’s family thinks he is the creator of the masterpiece, and as a result, James gets taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a closer look at the drawings of Albrecht Durer, and to show off his own work to museum experts. Of course, things get complicated as James struggles to hide the truth about the origin of the drawing, and he and Marvin get involved in an art heist scheme that if successful, may bring the friends face-to-face with Durer’s lost drawings.
An intro into the dramatic world of art heists and forgery, a friendship story, and a tidy little mystery, Masterpiece is as fine a piece of work as one of Marvin’s tiny creations. You’ll find gentle humour in Marvin’s relationship with his family and suspense in his escapades in the outside world with James. The friendship rings true, even though the characters can’t communicate conventionally. Broach presents the art history stuff in exactly the right depth for her audience, enough to spark curiosity and make kids feel smart. Think of this as Chasing Vermeer for beginners. Just right.
A few other reviews: