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Under the Egg Hardcover – March 18, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Before dying, Jack, Theodora's grandfather, whispers, "There's a letter… And a treasure" hidden "under the egg." After his passing, Theo could certainly use a treasure; her absentminded mother hides herself away on the top floor of their dilapidated Greenwich Village townhouse while the 13-year-old struggles to make ends meet with the $463 that Jack left. Hanging above the mantelpiece is one of her late grandfather's paintings which depicts a large egg. Could a treasure be hiding underneath? An accident with a bottle of rubbing alcohol reveals an unusual image that sets the teen off on an art history adventure taking her from New York Public Library's Jefferson Market branch to a fancy Upper East Side auction house and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along the way, she befriends Bodhi, the jet-setting, paparazzi-hounded daughter of two celebrities; Reverend Cecily from Grace Church; and a punk-rock librarian named Eddie. Fitzgerald gets the Manhattan setting pitch-perfect; from the rich aroma of a roasted nut stand to the hushed hallways of the Met. While the mystery unwinds at an even pace through most of the book, the last few chapters conclude too quickly and readers may be disappointed in the all-too-convenient ending. Still, fans of Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, 2004) and Elise Broach's Masterpiece (Holt, 2008) will enjoy this art caper.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
*Starred Review* Following her grandfather’s death, 13-year-old Theo shoulders the responsibility of looking after her mentally unfocused mother and keeping their Greenwich Village household running with no income. When Theo uncovers an old painting, possibly an original Raphael, she hopes to save their home. But is it a Raphael? Why was it hidden under a layer of paint? Was it stolen? By her beloved grandfather?! Theo and her friend Bodhi begin investigations that lead them to a church, an auction house, the public library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Center for Jewish History, and two Holocaust survivors. Theo’s household is vividly portrayed, from her grandfather’s creative ingenuity to her mother’s tenuous hold on reality. Smart and determined, down-to-earth and insightful, Theo makes an engaging narrator as she follows a winding trail of discovery. Along the way, Fitzgerald includes a good bit of art history, which becomes as interesting as the interplay between the two friends. In the end, the mystery’s solution depends a bit too much on adult intervention, coincidence, and even amnesia to be wholly satisfying. Still, it’s a riveting narrative. Readers who loved E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) and Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (2004) won’t want to put this one down. Grades 4-7. --Carolyn Phelan
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This is not age appropriate for elementary school (ages 8-12). It's also completely unnecessary to the story. The writer did a good job of writing and engaging mystery. However she touches on many older themes like mistresses, the Holocaust, war, mental illness, death, etc.... I haven't sheltered my kids by any means from life experiences, but we have handled them in age appropriate ways at the time.
She really should have given some better background about the Holocaust and World War 2, as most elementary schools haven't by 5th grade and it is necessary to the story as it unfolds. Also, the sexual life/mistresses of Raphael could have been handled differently for younger readers. Perhaps not thrown out the information in such a blatant description. Her choice in description is probably fine for older middle school, but not elementary. Even my 19 year old son read the book and was questioning why it was necessary to add it to a kid's book and wondered why there wasn't more kid-friendly attention paid to the historical significance of the various themes (Holocaust, WW2, the various painters and works of art taken during WW II, Nazi party, etc.) that tied the story together.
It made my daughter very interested in Renaissance art, technologies to authenticate art, and WWII history of the Jews. It was a kind story where, in the end, you are left feeling good about humanity in general, despite the challenges and difficulties people have. Strongly recommend for homeschooled kids, too (since one of the character is an unschooled girl).