From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—Frank Cottrell Boyce's novel (HarperCollins, 2006) is set in a very small town in Wales that was once a thriving slate producer. Dylan Hughes, 9, is the only boy in Manod and lives with his family who operate a not very profitable gas station and car repair shop. When Dylan puts antifreeze instead of oil in a teacher's car, he is relegated to keeping the petrol log in which he records not only gas sales but everything that happens during the day. The rest of the novel is structured as a journal. One day, vans are spotted going up the mountain and a mysterious encampment is set up at the quarry. The leader of the expedition stops for gas and meets Dylan and his hens, Donatello and Michelangelo (named after Mutant Ninja Turtles). However, the man thinks Dylan must be an art lover and invites him to the quarry where he discovers that the cave is protecting the art collection from London's National Gallery (like it actually did during WWII), which was recently flooded. The power of these masterpieces has such an affect on the townspeople that their lives and the character of the town undergoes a life affirming metamorphosis. The characters are eccentric, humorous, and wonderfully drawn, and the unpredictable plot has numerous twists and turns. The novel is skillfully narrated by Jason Hughes. This production, due to its length and Briticisms, would be most appreciated in an enrichment or gifted and talented program. Teachers can relate the novel to a wealth of art and social studies topics.—Carol Y. Barker, Wheelerville School, Caroga Lake, NY
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In a quiet Welsh town, nine-year-old Dylan Hughes helps his family run the struggling Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel. Quirky characters populate the community, including Daft Tom, who has a decades-old obsession with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, cartoon characters named for Renaissance artists. One day a convoy of vans passes through town, headed to some abandoned slate quarry mines. Dylan learns that the convoy is transporting paintings taken from the National Gallery because of flooding in London (an incident based on a real art evacuation that took place during World War II). It isn't long before Dylan's own familiarity with the cartoon turtles results in a misunderstanding about his knowledge of art. Like the mutagen that transformed the Turtles, the presence of the paintings brings changes to Dylan's family and to the townsfolk. Even with an attempted painting heist, this is a quieter book than Millions (2004), but the readers who take to its message about the importance of art will be charmed. A list of the hidden paintings is appended. Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett may be a good follow-up. Cindy Dobrez
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