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Masterpiece Hardcover – September 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 4–8—Broach combines discussion about the art of Albrecht Dürer with a powerful tale of friendship in a novel that is entertaining and full of adventure. Marvin is a beetle, and he and his family live in the Manhattan kitchen that belongs to the Pompaday family. When James receives a pen-and-ink drawing set for his 11th birthday, Marvin discovers that he is a bug with artistic talent. Although he can't speak to James, they soon bond in a true interspecies friendship, and their escapades begin. Because of Marvin's wonderful drawing, presumed to be James's work, the boy is recruited to create a fake Dürer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to help trap an art thief. Marvin produces the forgery, but he soon realizes that the original artwork is in danger. Only by placing his life on the line and relying on James's help can he save the masterpiece. Broach's projection of beetle life, complete with field trips to the family's solarium and complex uses of human discards for furniture and meals, is in the best tradition of Mary Norton's The Borrowers (Harcourt, 1953) and similar classic looks at miniature life. Murphy's illustrations add perspective and humor, supporting the detailed narrative. A masterpiece of storytelling.—Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI
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From Booklist

James lives an invisible existence in a grand apartment on the Upper East Side. His mother, busy with her new husband and baby and her climb up the Manhattan social ladder, has little time for him. By contrast, Marvin, a beetle whose overprotective, extended family resides behind James’ mother’s kitchen, gets more attention than he wants. The two find friendship when James’ artist father gives him a pen-and-ink set, and Marvin discovers his talent for “drawing,” crafting delicate, museum-quality miniatures with his legs. When Marvin and James find themselves embroiled in a plot to steal a Dürer drawing from the Metropolitan Museum, they must find creative ways to communicate to foil the thieves and protect the masterpiece. Murphy’s own pen-and-ink spot art reflects the text’s sweet insouciance. With suspense, art history, complex family relationships (human and arthropod), and a resonant friendship, this enjoyable outing will satisfy the reserved and adventurous alike. Grades 3-6. --Thom Barthelmess

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 700L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: Young Hoosier Intermediate Awards 2010-2011 (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805082700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805082708
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 94 people found the following review helpful By CD on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I'm debating what level of stars to give this, because it is a technically well-written story - rich with imagery filled vocabulary. The message, however, is so misguided that it cannot receive endorsement.

This mystery is certainly amusing and adequately enjoyable. A young boy is in the typical stranglehold between divorced parents. His mother is somewhat neglectful and more interested in her new family and in being difficult to his artsy father than parenting her older son. A beetle living in the home demonstrates an incredible talent for drawing which leads to the boy getting credit for the drawing by his father and, ultimately, an art museum.

The art museum curator hatches a plan for the boy's drawing skills (actually the beetle's) to be used to create a copy of a masterpiece as a decoy to find an art thief. The beetle cooperates with this deception out of a sense of obligation to the boy's friendship and to somehow validate (by counterfeited art) the boy in his mother's eyes.

This is where the point of the story gets muddy to me. What is the author's message to young readers? The boy's deception is never revealed. In fact, he ultimately is made a heroic character despite his credit-taking lies and breaking/entering - yes for an ultimate good - but is this exhonerated? The book amplifies the flaws of parents and adults, and supports the often-touted message to conceal info from parents - even to the point of endangerment of the young protagonist. Even the beetle goes against his parent's protective instruction and receives only a prodigal beetle's reception.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Lizbeth J. Phillips on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover

Regardless of whether or not you have read Elise Broach's SHAKESPEARE'S SECRET, you will absolutely fall in love with a marvelous little beetle named Marvin. Marvin inadvertently discovers he is a miniatures artist when he dabbles in James's ink set. The uncanny ability to recreate Durer miniatures puts Marvin in a number of dangerous (for beetles) situations, especially when everyone mistakenly assumes that James is the talanted artist--and later when Marvin and James try to thwart an art heist!

This novel has just the right blend of suspense, mystery, humor, and compassion to appeal to my middle school students. My students cannot put this book down once they start reading. As a matter of fact, one of my students got so wrapped up in the prose that she missed hearing her bus bell to go home.

I thought SHAKESPEARE'S SECRET was a masterpiece, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that MASTERPIECE was as masterful!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Keely on January 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have almost finished reading this book with my eight year old son, and we love it.
The style is warm, humorous and intelligently written from the point of view of Marvin, the
beetle narrator and artistic genius.

The story set in New York follows the adventures of Marvin who having descovered he is amazing
at ink drawings forms a friendship with a boy James, whose father, mistakes Marvin's
masterpiece for his sons. Intrigue ensues as James and Marvin get sucked into a world of forgery, stolen artifacts and double dealing .

A fast paced adventure with enough action for a reluctant reader and enough intrigue for a compulsive one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Travis Ann Sherman VINE VOICE on October 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Home, for Marvin's family, was a damp corner of the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink." Marvin, a young beetle -- not a roach-- lives with his happy family in the kitchen of the Pompaday family,where they dine on a "constant litter of apple cores, bread crumbs, onion skins, and candy wrappers." They dislike the Pompadays themselves, but they are fond of Mrs. Pompaday's eleven-year-old son, a quiet boy. When Mrs. Pompaday throws James a birthday party and invites all the obnoxious sons of her clients, only Marvin's family notices how unhappy he is. They decide to give him a present, and send Marvin, a clever young beetle, off to deliver it. But in James' room, Marvin has an urge to give him something really special, and leaves a tiny beetle-leg-and-ink drawing for him... And so James' life will never be the same again, because Marvin's delicate sketch is so perfect that it could be confused for a Duhrer masterpiece.

In fact, it is confused for a Duhrer masterpiece.

Broach, author of the equally excellent stories, "Shakespeare's Secret" and the witty and funny picture book "When Dinosaurs Came With Everything", is a wonderfully gifted story teller. "Masterpiece" leaves the reader with the hope that it might be possible, in a good world, to enjoy the friendship of a gifted insect, to visit behind the scenes at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to solve a mystery. There's more than a little wisdom embedded in Broach's prose as well:

"Why don't beetles ever get divorced?" Marvin asks.
..."Well, our lives are short, darling. What would be the point?...And we expect a lot less than people do.
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