Masterpiece

By Elise Broach (2008)

You think it’s a book about art – but really it turns out to be a book about friendship.

Marvin is a beetle. A cockroach? Maybe. But he lives with his family in the Pompaday family’s apartment in New York City. Marvin and his family are wise and observant even as they store tales of relatives who have struck out on their own with beetle wanderlust.

Marvin manages to strike up a relationship with the human boy James. Marvin also turns out to be an talented artist and this discovery leads to the layered plot of Masterpiece. Marvin and James make their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and somehow get embroiled in an arcane scheme to catch art forgers.

That may all sound complex – and it is a little. But Masterpiece is really about discovery. Marvin and James discover the art of the European artist, Albrecht Dürer. They learn about the four virtues – prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Most importantly, they learn about the mysterious and enduring power of friendship.

Students and their families learn all this, too – that is the magic of Elisa Broach’s Masterpiece. It conjures the atmosphere of E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It is a book – in length and theme that may appeal more to older elementary school children – but just as in Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – even younger children will be carried away by empathizing with tiny Marvin as he tries to make his way and negotiate and survive in the world of humans.

And all that art? Well who wouldn’t benefit from learning that a masterpiece is “a painting that can be interpreted a hundred different ways?”

As a great children’s novel should – Masterpiece will leave your students and families curious about art – and wiser about the true bonds of friendship.