Reads Revisited

Reads Revisited is a blog series where Trove and Edge Librarians revisit some of their favorite childhood stories. In today's column, Trove Librarian Raquel Cavalcanti revisits From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (OverDrive; Library Catalog) by E. L. Konigsberg.

Originally published in 1967, the story of the adventures of Claudia and Jamie was already a bit dated when I read it as a geeky art-loving child. It reads now, quite clearly as historical fiction, but I still greatly enjoyed hearing the audiobook of the story of the two young protagonists running away to hide out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even though several of the “landmarks” of the Museum’s collection in the story are now gone, anyone visiting the Museum today still gets a sense of an incredible almost secret world of art that the museum itself is. Typewriters and automats are things of the past, but Claudia and Jamie’s antagonistic and yet very loving sibling relationship is absolutely still very real in our present day.

I don’t really know why this book had a tremendous influence on me in my life, but it did. I loved visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a kid with my older brother and was mesmerized by the Ancient Egyptian artifacts. My college application essay centered around a high school visit (with my first high school sweetheart) to the Met, and I graduated as an Art History Major from NYU. In graduate school, I was thrilled when after applying as a security guard at the Museum; I was actually hired! The vast museum truly is a small world with “hidden” passages, and seemingly secret doors that we security guards used to get from one place to another quickly. The art mystery of the story is still very plausible in modern times – as one hears of “lost” artworks being found today as well, and those kinds of stories still excite me. I enjoyed listening to the story again recently, and I think that there are still quirky kids around who might still enjoy an adventure set in a museum full of old treasures. In case there are such readers, I have also included other diverse art adventures here as well.

For Further Reading:

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“Art, intrigue, and plenty of twists and turns make this art mystery a great read. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay set out to find the connection between their teacher (a freewheeling constructivist teacher), the eccentric woman in their neighborhood, the bookstore owner, and an international art thief. Balliett intersperses fascinating information about Johannes Vermeer and his paintings throughout the two friends' quest to solve the mystery-a mystery layered with pentominoes (a mathematical tool consisting of 12 pieces), puzzling clues, and suspicious strangers.” –Kirkus Reviews

Masterpiece by Elise Broach
OverDrive
Hoopla
Library Catalog
“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.” –School Library Journal

Finding Mighty by Sheela Charie
OverDrive
Hoopla
Library Catalog
“Myla and Peter step into the path of a gang when they unite forces to find Peter's runaway brother, Randall. As they follow the graffiti tags that Randall has been painting in honor of the boys' deceased father, they uncover a sinister history involving stolen diamonds, disappearances, and deaths. It started long ago when the boys' grandmother, a diamond-cutter, partnered with the head of the gang. She was rumored to have hidden his diamonds before her suspicious death, leaving clues to their whereabouts. Now everyone is searching, including Randall. The duo's collaboration is initially an unwilling one fraught with misunderstandings. Even after Peter and Myla bond over being the only people of color in an otherwise white school (Myla is Indian-American; mixed-race Peter is Indian, African-American, and white), Peter can't believe the gang is after Myla. But Myla possesses a necklace that holds a clue. Alternating first-person chapters allow peeks into how Myla, Peter, and Randall unravel the story and decipher clues. “ –Kirkus Reviews

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“As he lay dying, Theodora Tenpenny’s grandfather Jack muttered something about a treasure “under the egg.” Theodora, 13, thinks this means that Jack—a thrifty, unknown artist—left a means of providing for Theo and her unreliable mother. She searches the mantelpiece, beneath Jack’s painting of an egg, and the bowl where they display an egg gathered from the chicken coop behind their Greenwich Village townhouse. Nothing. Then an accident uncovers another image under Jack’s painting, sending Theo and her new friend Bodhi, the daughter of two film stars, on a mission to discover the provenance of what appears to be a Renaissance masterpiece. Theo is smart and resourceful, and debut author Fitzgerald creates a plausible backstory for the teen’s uncanny ability to spot “the difference between a Manet and a Monet.” –Publisher’s Weekly

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“On a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, sixth-graders Jack and Ruthie discover a magical key that allows them to explore the Thorne Rooms, 68 intricate model rooms in the children's galleries. When Ruthie holds the key, she and anything she is touching, including Jack, shrink to the scale of the models. As they explore the rooms, they learn that they are not the first to discover the key. The daughter of a friendly museum guard was the last to learn the secret of the Thorne Rooms, and she left behind a notebook containing priceless family photographs. If Ruthie and Jack can find and return the notebook without giving up the secret of the rooms, they can change the museum guard's life. However, the rooms are not without their dangers. Ruthie and Jack can move beyond them to the different time periods and locations of each one and, in doing so, may be able to alter the course of history.” –School Library Journal

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
OverDrive
Hoopla
Library Catalog
“A homeless boy in a 12th-century Korean village makes himself surprisingly useful to a master potter. Tree-ear has been living with Crane-man under a bridge, scavenging for food and comfort until one day he watches Min, the potter, becoming so fascinated he later creeps back to look at the finished pots. Surprised in the act, one of the pots is broken and Tree-ear must work to pay for the damage. The work is strenuous. Tree-ear aches and bleeds, but gradually he becomes accustomed to the work. Min allows him to continue to help in exchange for food from the master's kind wife. It is in the details that the story lays claim to a sort of Zen quality. Ethical decisions regarding acceptance of lunch and his responsibility to Crane-man are decided with fastidiousness and rectitude. Each choice of Tree-ear's shows an awareness of pride and dignity—not just for himself, but for Crane-man, Min, and his wife. Obtaining a royal commission to make pots worthy of the palace is at the heart of the plot. Intrigues, danger, and the same strong focus on doing what is right turn a simple story into a compelling read.” –Kirkus Reviews

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“A middle school student learns the meaning of redemption in this excellent coming-of-age story. For the rest of the country, it was the year President Kennedy was assassinated. For Arthur Owens, it would always be the year his Dad died. Arthur is struggling to adapt. When he sees his Dad's hat being worn by the neighborhood “Junk Man,” it is just too much. Arthur isn't a bad kid, but he picks up that brick and throws it just the same. The judge pronounces a “highly unconventional sentence.” At the behest of the victim James Hampton, the “Junk Man,” Arthur must spend every weekend of his community service helping to complete Hampton's artistic masterpiece. Inspired by real life artist James Hampton's life and work, “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly,” the plot avoids overt religious tones and sticks with the exploration of friendship, love, and life's most important lessons. From the “Junk Man's” neighbor, Groovy Jim, to no-nonsense Probation Officer Billie to Arthur's new best pal Squeak, and even his family, Pearsall has struck just the right tone by imbuing her well-rounded, interesting characters with authentic voices and pacing the action perfectly.” –School Library Journal

The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“Ted understands patterns but not people. Due to his ability to see details most people ignore, he was able to find his missing cousin Salim in the first book in this series, The London Eye Mystery, written by the late Siobhan Dowd. Aunt Gloria and Salim now live in New York. Aunt Gloria is a curator at the Guggenheim and has invited her younger sister Kat and Ted for a week's visit. Ted hates change and knows he will miss his father who remains in London; his dad is his explainer who tells him what idiomatic expressions mean and helps him navigate an often confusing world. The family goes to the museum when it is closed to the public and at that very moment smoke bombs are dropped and an expensive Kandinsky painting is stolen. The police arrest Aunt Gloria and everyone panics. Now it's up to Ted, Kat, and Salim to solve the mystery and clear Aunt Gloria's name. Through a process of deductive reasoning, they work through the list of suspects. Swift pacing and smartly integrated clues allow readers to make connections along with the characters. Stevens's portrayal of Ted, who is on the autism spectrum, is positive and empowering without being trite or falling prey to tropes. VERDICT A top mystery for middle grade readers.” –School Library Journal

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Burton Treviño
OverDrive
Hoopla
Library Catalog
“This 1965 publication won a Newbery Medal and top awards in England and France. De Trevino's masterpiece is enhanced by Ward's glorious narration. The colorful text is presented so artistically that simply listening to all of the different voices and accents is a great pleasure. Juan is an African slave who assists Spanish painter Velçzquez and himself becomes an accomplished artist in spite of the prohibition against a slave learning to paint. The diverse European accents, as well as Juan's African speech patterns as a child and an adult, are masterfully recreated. The book closes very interestingly with de Treviño explaining the art of creating a biography.” –AudioFile

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker
OverDrive
Library Catalog
“Sixth-grader Olympia–called Ollie by her best friends, Richard and Alex–is left fending for herself when her father disappears and her mother experiences a major depressive crisis. A vividly depicted urban landscape firmly establishes this novel in the SoHo of 1981, where Ollie lives in a converted industrial loft and picks up packs of cigarettes and Tab at a store on Broadway for her mom. A talented artist, Ollie's mom has stopped getting out of bed since Ollie's father, an art restorer, embarked on a clandestine trip to France a week before. At first glance, this elegantly nostalgic and leisurely paced story, sparingly illustrated with delicate pencil drawings, is a mystery involving a valuable wood carving on which Ollie's dad and his business partner, Apollo, were working. However, there are so many other themes at play–including the intricacies of friendships, the pain of living with depression, and art's ability to create meaning out of life's ordinary and sometimes-difficult circumstances–that it defies simple genre categorization. A host of honest, flawed, deeply sympathetic characters that are poignant and funny are at once unique and familiar.” –Kirkus Reviews

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