Masterpiece
Masterpiece
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Elise Broach, illus. by Kelly Murphy
ISBN 9780805082708
Henry Holt, 2008.
4 ½ stars
Keywords: art beetles elise-broach friendship masterpiece metropolitan-museum new-york-city

Masterpiece
by Elise Broach, illus. by Kelly Murphy

If your child loves Charlotte’s Web, there’s a very good chance he or she will also enjoy this tale about an interspecies friendship, also in which one friend trumpets another’s talent. Oh, and there’s a mystery thrown in, too.

 

For the human boy James’s 11th birthday, Marvin wants to do something special. Marvin is a beetle who lives with his very large extended family beneath James’s kitchen sink in New York City.  After some deliberation and a great amount of effort, Marvin delivers a buffalo nickel to the boy’s room. He then becomes fascinated by a  pen-and-ink set on James’s desk --a gift from the boy’s artist father. Marvin uses his two front legs to make an intricate drawing of the scene outside the boy’s window, and its superior quality attracts a great deal of attention, not only from James (who immediately befriends the talented beetle), but also from the boy’s keen-eyed mother, his stepfather, and also James’s father, Karl. Karl exclaims that the piece is very similar to the work of Albrecht Dürer, and takes James to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to witness the resemblance for himself. James, meanwhile, tucks Marvin into his jacket pocket. At the Met, they run into Karl’s college friend, Denny, curator of drawings at the Getty Museum. What follows is an intricate plot to catch an art thief, putting to work James’s purported talent. Broach makes the most of Marvin’s beetle’s-eye view of the world, for both its practical applications (the ease with which he finds hiding places) and its potential for humor. Murphy’s illustrations also exploit these opportunities: One standout is when she pictures James’s face as he observes Marvin drawing. Best of all, Broach creates a wonderful parallel between the book’s two main themes: “A great friendship was like a great work of art, [Marvin] thought. It took time and attention, and a spark of something that was impossible to describe.”

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