Thursday, February 6, 2014

January Round-Up

Image from
Framed by Frank Cottrell
HarperCollins, 2005

9 year old Dylan wasn’t the brains behind stealing the painting (that was his little sister Minnie, she’s a genius), but he remembers all the events that led up to the heist. It’s all thanks to the detailed notes he started talking in the petrol log for his family’s business, the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel. To most people it might look like a combination gas station and convenience store, but Dylan knows that one day it will be Manod’s premier indoor attraction! Dylan also remembers the day the trucks drove up the mountain, full of art evacuated from flooding at the National Gallery in London. And, as Dylan writes in the notes section of the log, “paintings are like mutagen.” They have the power to change people, just as mutagen had the power to change four ordinary turtles into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Written in first person from Dylan’s perspective, this hilarious book uses pop culture references – “Cowabunga!” – to explore the transformative powers of art. Cottrell Boyce also sensitively handles Dylan’s feelings when his father leaves the family to find work in another town. The clever and funny text is filled with tiny bits of foreshadowing that make the art heist the culmination of the story. Although Dylan uses many British terms and mentions quite a few British foods, young readers should be able to get an idea of meaning through context. Finally, although the plot relies heavily on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and this will date the book rather quickly, this is also what makes it so accessible to children of today.


More chapter books by Cottrell:
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 9+/Grade 4+

Image from
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
Henry Holt, 2008

This is the story of an artist. But not just any artist. A beetle artist. His name is Marvin and he lives in the apartment owned by the Pompaday family in New York City. Of course, Marvin doesn’t know he was an artist until James Pompaday gets a pen and ink set for his birthday. Marvin creates a marvelously detailed picture that everyone is convinced was made by James. Soon boy and beetle become involved in a clever plan to help the Metropolitan Art Museum catch a serial art thief.

Written from Marvin’s perspective, this book is part animal story, part art mystery. Short chapters and plot twists will keep readers intrigued as Marvin learns about life, beauty, art, and the true meaning of friendship. Broach’s small black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout the story, providing context and visual interest. In addition, their pen and ink style is similar to the one Marvin uses in the story. A brief author’s note provides information on Dürer, art heists, and beetles in a kid-friendly fashion. Don’t miss the endpapers with their blueprint-like map of Marvin’s world.


Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+

Image from
Mister Max and the Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voight
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

12 year old Max Starling was pretty excited when the telegram arrived, but not as dramatically enthusiastic as his parents! William and Mary Starling were the reigning king and queen of theatre in city of Queensbridge, so both were exceedingly flattered when they were invited to India to found a royal theatrical company. The family plans to sail together on the Flower of Kashmir, but not only does Max miss the boat, his parents have been abducted. Luckily, Max is able to stay with his grandmother, the town librarian. Unluckily, Grammy doesn’t have a lot of money, so it’s up to Max to find work. Using his theatrical background and his ability to blend into a crowd, Max becomes Mister Max, the solutioneer. As he solves mysteries around Queensbridge, Max wonders if he can find a solution to his biggest problem – How to find and bring back his parents.

Set somewhere in the US in a bygone time (perhaps the early 1900’s?), Voight creates a small city filled with lively characters. Young readers will delight in solving the many small mysteries before Max that are tied neatly together at the end of the story. The only mystery not solved is what exactly has happened to Max’s parents, but since this is the first in a series (the second book, Mister Max and the Book of Secrets, will be published in September, 2014) that’s not really surprising. Max is a resourceful and resilient protagonist. Although he worries about his parents, he’s determined to prove he can live independently. Voight uses a vast vocabulary, making this a good recommendation for a strong reader or for a family read aloud.


See a list of Voight’s chapter books on her website.

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+