by Elise Broach, published 2008
“Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence. If you had to choose one virtue, which would be the most important? Was it better to be wise or brave? Reasonable or fair? Marvin decided that the answer to that question might depend on your situation.”
Here’s a wild combination of elements: art history, mystery, philosophy, and a clever beetle. Add in a plucky young boy of 11, divorced parents, and theft from a New York City art museum, and you have a ‘can’t miss’ children’s book. And this book definitely hits the mark on everything you want in a good children’s book – likable characters, a bad guy, no violence, deep insights, and a wonderful ending. You can tell by now that I loved this book from start to finish. I admit I had to get over the far-fetched idea of a beetle as a main character, but hey, that’s a small price to pay!
The plot of the book involves several things at once – a somewhat sad boy that produces amazing drawings, though, like Rumplestiltskin, they are actually produced by someone else (the beetle). And then there’s art theft, with a surprising outcome, discovered by the beetle himself. So it’s all a bit of a wild imaginative ride. Yet, this children’s book gets grounded by very thoughtful observations about art, artists, virtues, and life itself. It asks deep questions about justice and compassion. This provides a nice tapestry as we go from the wild experience of an artistic beetle, to the more subdued thoughts of the adults.
I wish the book was for all ages, but I think because of the depth of exploration about friendship and justice, it is best for 9 and up. Luckily for the younger readers, the author has started a children’s book series for 5 to 8, that I will also review. This one, meanwhile, can’t be beat.