by Elise Broach (2008)
A Sweet Spot selection.
A masterpiece is “a painting that can be seen in a hundred different ways.”
A boy, a beetle, and a masterpiece all come together for a story that is part art history lesson, part art heist, and all about the power of an unexpected friendship.
Marvin is the beetle. He lives with his family in the Pompaday’s apartment in New York City. Marvin and his family are wise and observant and ever vigilant in protecting themselves from the fate that befalls those who succumb to beetle wanderlust. Marvin manages to slip away and strike up a relationship with the human boy, James Pompaday. Marvin also turns out to be a talented artist and this discovery leads to the layered plot of Masterpiece.
“Well, it kind of is a church… a temple of art.”
Marvin and James make their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and somehow get embroiled in a complicated 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 of Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice. Most importantly, though, they learn about the mysterious and enduring power of friendship.
“What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things.” (Albrecht Dürer)
Students and their families learn all of this, too, which is the magic of Elise Broach’s Masterpiece. It conjures the atmosphere of E.L. Konigsburg’s classic, 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, younger students and their families will be carried away by the strength and ingenuity of tiny Marvin as he tries to negotiate in the world of humans. And, Kelly Murphy’s delightful illustrations will help support those younger listeners.
“It’s as if the drawings speak to one another.”
Marvin is ultimately able to identify the real Dürer drawing because it has “the musty scent of centuries.” 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.