I was suffering from a rather nasty bout with the flu when a kind friend brought home Masterpiece to distract me from my ills. I doubt he could have chosen a better book to take me away from my troubles completely!
A beetle, Martin, and his family, live under the sink in the Pompaday's house. Although the beetles like the son James, quiet and lonely, they don't care much for the rest of his family (made up of his pushy mother, complaining stepfather and messy baby brother). After James has a disappointing birthday (ruined by his mother inviting the sons of potential clients to his party rather than any of his friends), Martin paints him a tiny landscape using the pen and ink set James' father gave him. The painting bears an uncanny resemblance to the work of Albrecht Dürer. James is well aware that Martin, his new friend, is the true artist but all the adults around him assume that the painting was done by James himself. When several people who work at the museum see the painting, they enlist James (and inadvertently Martin) to help them catch an art thief.
I knew I would love this story, having loved Shakespeare's Secret so well. Elise Broach's characters are just so marvelous! Martin and his family, in particular, were refreshingly well-adjusted as a contrast to James' dysfunctional one. There is even a bit of wise philosophy spoken by Martin's mother that I found quite inspiring (pg. 171). The mystery, while quite complicated in parts (it took me forever to boil the book down to a one paragraph summary!), was fast-paced and exciting all while gently displaying the delightful characters. The illustrations of Kelly Murphy added perfectly to the story of quiet friendship and intricate mystery.
Somehow, like Master Dürer himself, Ms. Broach was able to create a masterpiece with tiny details and warm, enduring images.
I also loved that Dürer was the featured artist in this book! I thought he was an unorthodox choice; most books would feature an artist along the lines of Da Vinci or Michelangelo. I would love to see a book that incorporates the art of one of my favorite artists maybe Alphonse Mucha or Maxfield Parrish. What do you think? Any artists, obscure or known, you would like to see in the plot of a book?