• Happy birthday Leda Schubert (Ballet of the Elephants), Marjorie W. Sharmat (Nate the Great) and Neal Shusterman (The Schwa Was Here, Unwind).
  • It’s the birth date of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) who started the U.S. women’s suffrage movement by presenting her Declaration of Sentiments at the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
  • He flew through the air with the greatest of ease! Jules Leotard, designer of the leotard, performs first flying trapeze circus act in Paris, in 1859.
  • It’s National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day. Read Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor, Pizza the Size of the Sun by Jack Prelutsky, and The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch.

Today I’m focusing on another book for National Young Reader’s Week, one of the relatively new titles I think is destined to become a classic. A mystery and suspense novel, it also presents the work of Albrecht Durer, painter and printmaker, to young readers in grades three through six. Precocious as a child because of his drawing skill, Durer became known for his meticulous, true-to-life pencil sketches, etchings, and woodcuts. Today Durer is considered the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance. Obviously, an original Durer drawing could be worth an immense amount of money. But could anyone successfully forge a drawing by this master?

This question lies at the center of a book that brings to mind several children’s classics—From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Westing Game, The Cricket in Times Square—and then adds just a trace of Kafka. The unusual, though very likable, protagonist of Elise Broach’s novel Masterpiece happens to be a beetle—one who lives with young James Pompaday in a Manhattan apartment building. After James receives a pen-and-ink drawing set for his eleventh birthday, Martin the beetle discovers that he can use it to craft museum-quality miniatures of existing artwork. Being small and agile, Martin can actually forge a believable copy of a Durer drawing. Hence he and James are drawn into the art-smuggling world, trying to be of service to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

However farfetched this plot may sound, the author presents the entire saga in such a believable way that readers get swept up, cheering for Martin and James, and learn a lot about the art world and Albrecht Durer in the process. With suspense, mystery, and humor, Masterpiece is perfect to read alone or aloud to a fifth or sixth grade classroom. Memorable characters, great drama, and beautiful writing have helped establish this book as a classic in the making. The friendship between a beetle and this young boy tugs at one’s heartstrings. It even makes you wish you could have a beetle like Marvin as a friend in your own home!

In short, the book is a masterpiece—and a perfect way to celebrate National Young Readers Week.

Here’s a passage from Masterpiece:

Home, for Marvin’s family, was a damp corner of the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. Here, a leaking pipe had softened the plaster and caused it to crumble away. Just behind the wall, Marvin’s family had hollowed out three spacious rooms, and, as his parents often remarked, it was a perfect location. It was warm, because of the hot-water pipes embedded in the wall; moist, to make burrowing easy; and dark and musty, like all the other homes the family had lived in. Best of all, the white plastic wastebasket that loomed on one side offered a constant litter of apple cores, bread crumbs, onion skins, and candy wrappers, making the cupboard an ideal foraging ground.


Originally posted November 12, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Animals, Art, Insects
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Masterpiece


  1. I’m admittedly bias as a artist/illustrator but what a great idea for a book! I especially love Durer and if this book is as well presented as you imply, then I’m sold.

  2. Aimee says:

    Well, you know I’m just loving your new website! I’ll see if I can find a way to link up to your daily posts on our site. This is so fun!

  3. Donna says:

    I loved this book when I read it and have recommended it many times! I love your line “however farfetched this plot may sound . . .”! I have used something akin to those words when recommending it. Hard to imagine that the book wouldn’t be silly, but I feel, as well, that it is a classic in the making. :)

  4. Maria Simon says:

    I loved Masterpiece too and your line “and then adds just a trace of Kafka” is perfect. I admire Albrecht Durer and am happy to have children discover him as well.

  5. Thanks for posting this charming introduction to this book. Yes, I, too, love Albrecht Durer’s art. I’m intrigued to go find the book. And I’m sharing your post on Twitter, got to send out good reads (actually found you on GR).

  6. anne rockwell says:

    I must read this book Anita! Thanks for spreading the word!

  7. Jamie says:

    I completely, unabashedly love this book. Kelly Murphy’s illustrations have so much character, and they add to an already stellar text. Thanks so much for featuring this!

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