Book Review: Masterpiece

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I’m always trying to get my two kids, Thomas, 12, and Kate,11, to read more. That means finding books they’ll love. A great place to start is the library's Dorothy Canfield Fisher section, which is devoted to high-quality, new, American children’s books selected by a panel of literary Vermonters.

My kids respond best to stories with plot twists and a bit of mystery. When I came upon the fast-paced Masterpiece by Elise Broach, I knew it would win them over. And when I finally read it to them, I couldn’t wait to see their reactions to each twist and turn. 

The protagonist, James Pompaday, lives in a New York City apartment with his mom, stepdad and little brother, William. Mrs. Pompaday works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and James’ biological dad is an artist. Unfortunately, James hasn’t inherited either of their artistic talents. When he receives a pen-and-ink set for his 11th birthday, though, things change quickly. 

Marvin, a beetle who lives with his family under the Pompaday’s kitchen sink, only emerges to gather loose Cheerios or the occasional M & M. But one night, he sees the ink bottle and paper on James’ desk and decides to surprise him with a picture. James discovers the amazing drawing — and Marvin — and an unlikely boy-beetle friendship begins. 

Broach describes the beetle’s sentiments:

“A great friendship was like a great work of art, he thought. It took time and attention, and a spark of something that was impossible to describe. It was a happy, lucky accident, finding some kindred part of yourself in a total stranger.” 

Things get more complicated when the adults think James is responsible for the remarkable etching. James’ mom is thrilled to uncover her son’s newfound talent. James is happy to finally get her attention but worried she will discover that he is an imposter and can’t really draw a lick.

Their story continues, as James and Marvin must learn to rely on each other to solve the mystery of an art theft and forgery at the Met. The tale of their friendship will have you eagerly turning pages (and, possibly, shrieking with shock and delight, like my kids did) as the odd pair creates one masterpiece of a story.  

Contributor Patrick Henry lives in Burlington with his wife, Paula, and their two children. He's helped his kids write and illustrate books as Christmas gifts to their mom ever since they were preschoolers.

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