Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Masterpiece by Elise Broach illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Masterpiece - one boy, one beetle, one BIG adventure made me gasp out loud not just once but several times as our hero Marvin, a beetle, tries desperately to help his best friend James.

James is given a set of artist inks and pens for his eleventh birthday from his dad.  James lives with a very hyperactive mother and stepfather.  His party has been a disaster just as James expected but what James does not know is that Marvin has been watching the whole event.  Marvin lives with his loving family in "damp corner of the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink.  Here a leaking pipe had softened the plaster and caused it to crumble away.  Just behind the wall, Marvin's family had hollowed out three spacious rooms, and as his parents often remarked, it was the perfect location.  It was warm, moist and ... best of all, the white plastic wastebasket that loomed on one side offered a constant littler of apple cores, bread crumbs, onion skins and candy wrappers."

Marvin loves James and so he really wants to give his friend a special birthday present.  Late at night he climbs up to his bedroom and discovers the ink and pen.  He dips his legs into the ink and begins to draw the scene outside the window. His art work is an exquisite miniature.  When James's dad sees this work he insists on taking James to see a special art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  On display is a tiny work by Durer entitled Fortitude.  It is part of a set of four but the other three have been stolen.  The scene is set for a major art crime.

Ever since I read The Borrowers the idea of little creatures inhabiting our homes has fascinated me. I especially enjoy the way simple human things are adapted for use by these smaller house dwellers. Marvin and his family use an old eraser as their table, a contact lens for a fruit bowl and Marvin him self sleeps on a soft cotton ball.  I love the idea of a tea bag used as a parachute and dried macaroni turned into a tuba.The feasts the beetles enjoy from the crumbs dropped by the Pompaday family are also a delight.

Here is the author web site. Here is the review in the New York Times.  Here is a useful set of teaching notes. You might also enjoy The Medici Curse, Chasing Vermeer and From the Mixed up files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler if art crime, mysteries and museums interest you.  If you are fascinated by little animals or people who might live in the walls of your home pick up Tumtum and Nutmeg Bless this mouse or the wonderful book Walter.  For more about Albert Durer look at Run Hare, Run which is a terrific picture book in our library.  The wisdom of Marvin also reminded me of Humphrey.

I have included a different cover design below - which do you prefer?

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