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Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy.After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing...

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Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy.After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can’t go through with the plan without Marvin’s help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!). This fast-paced mystery will have young readers on the edge of their seats as they root for boy and beetle.
In Shakespeare’s Secret Elise Broach showed her keen ability to weave storytelling with history and suspense, and Masterpiece is yet another example of her talent. This time around it’s an irresistible miniature world, fascinating art history, all wrapped up in a special friendship— something for everyone to enjoy.

Masterpiece is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Inventive ... Broach ... packs this fast-moving story with perennially seductive themes: hidden lives and secret friendships, miniature worlds lost to disbelievers ... Broach and Kelly show readers something new."
--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Delightful intricacies of beetle life ... blend seamlessly with the suspenseful caper as well as the sentimental story of a complicated-but-rewarding friendship ... Murphy’s charming pen-and-ink drawings populate the short chapters of this funny, winsome novel."
--Kirkus Reviews
"This marvelous story is sure to be a hit."
--School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly

With overtones of Chasing Vermeer and The Borrowers, this inventive mystery involves two families that inhabit the same Manhattan apartment: the Pompadays-a slick, materialistic couple, their infant son and thoughtful James, from the wife's previous marriage-and a family of beetles, who live behind the kitchen sink and watch sympathetically as James's charms go unappreciated. Careful though the beetles are to stay hidden, boy beetle Marvin crosses the line, tempted by a pen-and-ink set James receives for his 11th birthday. Marvin draws an intricate picture and then identifies himself to a delighted James as the artist. Before James can hide Marvin's picture, Mrs. Pompaday loudly proclaims her son's talent and even James's laid-back artist dad compares the work with the drawings of Albrecht Dürer. A trip to a Dürer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art follows, James stowing Marvin in a pocket; before long a curator is asking James to forge a Dürer miniature of Fortitude as part of an elaborate plan to catch an art thief (can a tiny virtue defeat big lies?).

Broach (Shakespeare's Secret) packs this fast-moving story with perennially seductive themes: hidden lives and secret friendships, miniature worlds lost to disbelievers. Philosophy pokes through, as does art appreciation (one curator loves Dürer for "his faith that beauty reveals itself, layer upon layer, in the smallest moments"), but never at the expense of plot. In her remarkable ability to join detail with action, Broach is joined by Murphy (Hush, Little Dragon), who animates the writing with an abundance of b&w drawings. Loosely implying rather than imitating theOld Masters they reference, the finely hatched drawings depict the settings realistically and the characters, especially the beetles, with joyful comic license. This smart marriage of style and content bridges the gap between the contemporary beat of the illustrations and Renaissance art. Broach and Kelly show readers something new, and, as Marvin says, "When you [see] different parts of the world, you [see] different parts of yourself." Ages 8-13. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Although some readers may be put off by a story about a beetle and a boy, this is a great mystery for young adolescents. The main character is Marvin, a beetle who lives with his family inside the home of James, his mother, stepfather and baby brother. On James's birthday, his biological father, an artist, gives him an ink set. Marvin, though, is the one who has artistic talent and he uses James's pens to draw a tiny miniature as a gift to the 11-year-old. James's father is thrilled that "his son" seems to have followed in his artistic footsteps and takes James on a trip to the art museum to see famous miniatures drawn by Albrecht Durer. Through a series of coincidences, James and Marvin are introduced to the world of stolen artwork and it will take all of their ingenuity to return the art and capture the thief, while covering up the fact that it is not James who draws, but the little black beetle. Marvin is a great little character, with much curiosity and talent. He and his family live off the crumbs and scraps left behind in the house. James is a quiet boy caught in a divorce and trying to find his own identity. He doesn't know how to explain the prized miniature that thrusts him into his mother's spotlight. The friendship between the two characters is believable and is a major theme as the two seek to help and support one another. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
Children's Literature - Sharon Oliver
Broach, with two successful juvenile novels behind her, presents a third sure hit with mystery readers. Marvin is a beetle who lives with his family under the kitchen sink of the Pompaday family, Mrs. Pompaday, her son James, his little brother, and his stepfather, Mr. Pompaday. When James receives a drawing kit from his artist father on his birthday, Marvin sneaks in for a closer look and discovers he has a talent for drawing. When the adults think James is responsible for the remarkable drawing, he gets caught up in a plan to fake a famous Albrecht Durer drawing in an elaborate plot to catch a thief. Unfortunately, things go awry and the real drawing is stolen instead. Marvin manages to stay with the painting and tries to get back to his friend James to recover the famous artwork. Aside from a couple of wandering sub plots, this is a great mystery and a rousing adventure. Through it all, James and Marvin learn quite a bit about art, people, and taking credit for work that is not your own. This is a wonderful addition to juvenile fiction collections and is sure to be hit with fans of Broach's previous novels as well as new readers. Reviewer: Sharon Oliver
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8

Elise Broach's novel (Holt, 2008) is the story of a beetle named Marvin who lives under the kitchen sink in a New York City apartment, and his friendship with James Pompaday, a human boy. Marvin feels sorry for James, whose mother never seems to have anything nice to say about him. After an unpleasant 11th birthday party, Marvin decides to do something nice for James. He uses the ink from a pen-and-ink set that the boy received for his birthday to draw a miniature of the scene outside of the boy's bedroom window. Mrs. Pompaday sees the drawing and thinks her son is the artist. Soon James finds himself being compared to Albrecht Durer, the famous Renaissance artist, and becomes involved in a plot to help the Metropolitan Museum of Art recover several Durer masterpieces that have been stolen. Jeremy Davidson skillfully portrays the various characters, easily transitioning between their voices. This marvelous story is sure to be a hit with middle school students.-Kathy Miller, Baldwin Junior High School, Baldwin City, KS

Kirkus Reviews
Eleven-year-old James Terik isn't particularly appreciated in the Pompaday household. Marvin, a beetle who lives happily with his "smothering, overinvolved relatives" behind the Pompadays' kitchen sink, has observed James closely and knows he's something special even if the boy's mother and stepfather don't. Insect and human worlds collide when Marvin uses his front legs to draw a magnificent pen-and-ink miniature for James's birthday. James is thrilled with his tiny new friend, but is horrified when his mother sees the beetle's drawing and instantly wants to exploit her suddenly special son's newfound talents. The web further tangles when the Metropolitan Museum of Art enlists James to help catch a thief by forging a miniature in the style of Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer. Delightful intricacies of beetle life-a cottonball bed, playing horseshoes with staples and toothpicks-blend seamlessly with the suspenseful caper as well as the sentimental story of a complicated-but-rewarding friendship that requires a great deal of frantic leg-wiggling on Marvin's part. Murphy's charming pen-and-ink drawings populate the short chapters of this funny, winsome novel. (author's note) (Fantasy. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312608705
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Edition description: STRIPPABLE
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 114,935
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 700L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.66 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Elise Broach is the New York Times bestselling author of books for children and young adults, including Desert Crossing and Shakespeare’s Secret, as well as several picture books. Her books have been selected as ALA notable books, Junior Library Guild selections, an E.B. White Read Aloud Award, and nominated for an Edgar Award, among other distinctions. Ms. Broach holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from Yale University. She was born in Georgia and lives in the woods of rural Connecticut, walking distance from three farms, a library, a post office and two country stores.
Kelly Murphy has illustrated many books for children including Hush Little Dragon. She lives in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 4: A Present for James

The journey through the dark apartment to James’s room was an arduous one. Rolling the nickel across the kitchen tile went relatively smoothly, but hoisting it over the door sills left Marvin exhausted and panting. He had to watch for trouble every step of the way, not just night-roving Pompadays, but the booby-traps of forgotten gum or scotch tape on the floor, or worse yet, a foraging mouse.
When he finally reached James’s bedroom, he had to sit for a minute to catch his breath. A streetlamp outside the window cast dim light across the walls, and in the bluish blackness, Marvin saw the mountainous silhouette of James, asleep under the blankets. He heard the boy’s deep breaths.
Marvin thought about the birthday party. Had it been a good day for James? The boys at the party weren’t his friends. The presents had been an uninspired mix of electronic games and designer clothing. Mrs. Pompaday was as fussy and self-centered as always, and even James’s father, whom Marvin liked a lot, hadn’t come up with a present that seemed to please his son. Marvin glanced down at the worn face of the buffalo nickel. Would the coin make up for everything else? Probably not.
Suddenly, Marvin felt so sad he could hardly stand it. A person’s birthday should be a special day, a wonderful day, a day of pure celebration for the luck of being born! And James’s birthday had been miserable.
Marvin rolled the nickel to a prominent place in the middle of the floor, away from the edge of the rug where it might be overlooked. James would see it here. He looked around the dark room one last time.
Then he saw the bottle of ink. It was high up on James’s desk, and it appeared to be open.
Curious, Marvin crawled across the floor to the desk and quickly climbed to the top. James had spread newspaper over the desk, and two or three sheets of the art paper his father had given him. On one page he’d made some experimental scribbles and had written his name. The pen, neatly capped, rested at the edge of the paper, but the bottle of ink stood open, glinting in the lamplight.
Without really thinking about what he was doing, Marvin crawled to the bottle cap and dipped his two front legs in the ink that had pooled inside. On his clean hind legs, he backed over to the unused sheet of paper. He looked out the window at the nightscape of the street: the brownstone opposite with its rows of darkened windows, the snow-dusted rooftop, the streetlamp, the naked, spidery branches of a single tree. Gently, delicately, and with immense concentration, Marvin lowered his front legs and began to draw.
The ink flowed smoothly off his legs across the page. Though he’d never done anything like this before, it seemed completely natural, even unstoppable. He kept glancing up, tracing the details of the scene with his eyes, then transferring them onto the paper. It was as if his legs had been waiting all their lives for this ink, this page, this lamp-lit window view. There was no way to describe the feeling. It thrilled Marvin to his very core.
He drew and drew, losing all sense of time. He moved back and forth between the bottle cap and the paper, dipping his front legs gently in the puddle of black ink, always careful not to smear his previous work. He watched the picture take shape before his eyes. It was a complicated thatching of lines and whirls that looked like an abstract design up close, as Marvin leaned over it. But as he backed away, it transformed into a meticulous portrait of the city-scape: a tiny, detailed replica of the winter scene outside the window.
And then the light changed. The sky turned from black to dark blue to gray, the streetlamp shut off, and James’s room was filled with the noise of the city waking. A garbage truck groaned and banged as it passed on the street below. James stirred beneath his bedcovers. Marvin, desperate to finish his picture before the boy awakened, hurried between the page and the bottle cap, which was almost out of ink. At last he stopped, surveying his miniature scene.
It was finished.
It was perfect.
It was breathtaking.
Marvin’s heart swelled. He felt that he had never done anything so fine or important in his entire life. He wiped his ink-soaked forelegs on the newspapers and scurried behind the desk lamp, bursting with pride, in a fever of anticipation, just as James threw off his blankets.
James stumbled out of bed and stood in the center of the bedroom, rubbing his face. He looked around groggily, then straightened, his eyes lighting on the floor.
“Hey,” he said softly. He padded over to the nickel and crouched, picking it up.
Good for James, thought Marvin. Of course there was no reason to worry that he’d overlook it.
James turned the coin over in his palm and smiled. “Huh,” he said, walking toward his desk. “I wonder where this came from.”
Marvin stiffened and retreated further behind the desk lamp.
James gasped.
Marvin watched his pale face, his eyes huge, as he stared at the drawing. He quickly looked behind him, as if the room might hold some clue that would explain what he saw on the desk.
Then slowly, brows furrowed, James pulled out the chair and sat down. He leaned over the picture. “Wow,” he said. “Wow!”
Marvin straightened with pride.
James kept examining the drawing, then the scene through the window, whispering to himself. “It’s exactly what’s outside! It’s like a teeny, tiny picture of the street! This is amazing.”
Marvin crept around the base of the lamp so he could hear the boy better.
“But how . . . ?” James picked up the pen and uncapped it, squinting. He lifted the bottle of ink and frowned, screwing the bottle cap back on. “Who did this?” he asked, staring again at the picture.
And then, without planning to—without meaning to, without ever thinking for a moment of the consequences—Marvin found himself crawling out into the open, across the vast desk top, directly in front of James. He stopped at the edge of the picture and waited, unable to breathe.
James stared at him.
After a long, interminable silence, during which Marvin almost dashed to the grooved safety of the wainscoting behind the desk, James spoke.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” he said.
Marvin waited.
“But how . . . ?”
Marvin hesitated. He crawled over to the bottle of ink.
James reached across the desk and Marvin cringed as enormous pinkish fingers swept tremblingly close to his shell. But the boy avoided him, carefully lifting the bottle and shaking it. He unscrewed the cap and set it down next to Marvin.
“Show me,” he whispered.
Marvin dipped his two front legs in the ink cap and walked across the page to his picture. Unwilling to change the details of the image, he merely traced the line that framed it, then stepped back.
“With your legs? Like that? Dipping them in the ink?” A wide grin full of wonderment and delight spread across James’s face. “You really did that! A bug! That’s the most incredible thing I ever, ever, ever saw in my whole entire life!”
Marvin beamed up at him.
“And with my birthday present too! You couldn’t have done it without my birthday present.” His voice rose excitedly, as he leaned closer to Marvin, his warm breath almost blasting Marvin over.
“It’s like we’re a team. And you know what? I didn’t even want this birthday present before. I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this, I’m not like my dad, I don’t even know how to draw.’ But now, it’s the best gift I ever got. This birthday is the best one ever!”
Marvin smiled happily. He realized that James could not for one minute see his expression, but he suspected somehow that the boy knew anyway.
Just then, they heard a noise in the hallway and Mrs. Pompaday’s voice: “James, what are you doing in there? Who are you talking to?”
Marvin dove for cover, squeezing under James’s china piggybank at the exact moment that Mrs. Pompaday swept into the room.

Excerpted from MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach.
Copyright © 2008 by Elise Broach.
Published in 2010 by Square Fish.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide


1. Near the end of his adventure with James, Marvin reflects,

“A great friendship is like a great work of art. It takes time

and attention, and a spark of something that is impossible to

describe. It is a happy, lucky accident; finding some kindred

part of yourself in a total stranger” (page 287). What do you

think about this idea? What do James and Marvin like about

each other? How does their friendship grow even though

they cannot speak with each other? Do you think they remain

friends after this story?

2. Why do you think Elise Broach chose to make Marvin a

beetle rather than a person or another kind of animal? What

do you think she is saying about friendship by having a

beetle and a boy become friends?

3. When Denny introduces James and his father to Christina,

Denny says, “Come meet my friends” (page 63). When Christina

sees James and his father visiting the museum after

the Dürer drawings have been rescued, she greets them by

saying, “My friends!” (page 273). Are Denny and Christina

James’s friends? Why or why not? How do James’s relationships

with Denny and Christina change over the course of

the story? Considering what Denny did, is Denny friends

with anyone? Explain.


4. Compare and contrast James’s family and Marvin’s family.

Which family would you rather live with? Why?

5. Marvin’s mother states, “. . . we expect a lot less than people

do. If we get through the day without being stepped on,

with a little food to fill our bellies, a safe place to bed down

for the a few hours, and our family and friends close by—

well, that’s a good day, isn’t it? In fact, a perfect day” (page

171). What do you think about her idea of a perfect day?

6. How does James feel about his parents’ divorce? Describe

the relationships James has with his mother, his stepfather,

and his father. Marvin thinks it’s good that James’s father

likes Christina (page 287). What do you think about a second

family for James?


7. What is a virtue? What does each virtue featured in the

story—fortitude, temperance, prudence, and justice—mean?

Give an example of when a character displays one of these

virtues in the story. Give an example of how someone might

enact one of these virtues in everyday life. Which of the four

virtues do you think is most important? Why?

8. James says that he made the drawing even though he

didn’t. Why does he do this? Does this affect how you think

about James? Did he have any other options? Do you think

James caught his hand in the taxi trunk on purpose? What

makes you think the way you do?

9. When Marvin overhears James agree to sell his drawing,

Marvin thinks that people care only about money (page 165).

Do you agree? Why or why not? Is money what James really

cares about? What do you think matters most in life? What

do you think matters most to James?

10. Denny offers that fortitude can be another word for bravery

or courage (page 152). Which characters in this story do

you think are brave? Why? Bravery can be more than taking

a physical stand or risk. There’s also an intellectual bravery

in standing up for what you believe or for what is right.

What characters display an intellectual bravery? How?


11. Karl says that a masterpiece is “the best of an artist’s

work—one of a kind . . . It can be hard to say what makes

one work stand out from the rest” (page 150). What makes

something a masterpiece? Why are masterpieces valuable?

Why do you think the book is titled Masterpiece?

12. What did you think when you learned that Denny was

the thief? Why do you think he stole Dürer’s drawings? At the

end of the story, James feels concerned about Denny having

to go to jail. Marvin is not as forgiving. Do you think Denny

should go to jail for stealing art? Why or why not?

13. In the author’s note, Elise Broach explains that though

Albrecht Dürer was a real artist, his drawings of the four

virtues in Masterpiece are fiction. Marvin creates pen-and-ink

line drawings like Dürer did, and Kelly Murphy’s illustrations

in Masterpiece are line drawings. How are line drawings different

from paintings? Use a pen or pencil to make your own

line drawing. Consider drawing a scene, as Marvin did in his

first drawing for James’s birthday, or a representation of one

of the virtues.

Small Worlds

14. How does the author make Marvin and his small world

seem real?

15. How are the Pompadays and Marvin’s family interdependent

(knowingly or unknowingly)?

16. Think about what Marvin and his family need to live in

James’s apartment. If a family of beetles lived in your home,

where would they live and why? Where would they have

a picnic? What kind of crumbs would they find for their


This guide was prepared by Emily Linsay, who is a teacher at

Bank Street School for Children in New York City.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 104 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2014

    Truly a masterpiece.

    'Masterpiece' by Elise Broach is a story about a boy who discovers the cockroach family living in his house has a son who harbors an amazing skill that no other insect can do -- drawing. But, it isn't just drawing, Marvin makes amazing pen and ink paintings, so much that he (or rather, James) is offered to remake a famous painting to prevent attempts to steal other artworks. As a cockroach, Marvin cannot tell James that the painting about to be stolen is the real one. This book, as the title states, is a masterpiece. The story is exciting and applies to all genders. Complete with action and adventure, this book is wonderful. Compliments to the author.

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  • Posted January 15, 2013



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2010

    A totally awesome book!

    This book is about a boy who got an ink set for his birthday and then saw a beetle drawing with it. After that his parents see the drawing and they take it to the museum. The workers in the museum see it and they are The middle is probably the most exciting part of of the story. It was great book and I couldn't put it down! Sometimes my mom told me go to bed at 7;55 and I stayed up till 8:15 because it was so good!and it was very interesting.

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  • Posted June 21, 2010

    A Must Read

    I really hate bugs so I was surprised that I could read a book with a beetle as a main character. The author developed the characters so well, the reader couldn't help but care about them. The story is a great example or word choice, descriptive sentences, character and plot development. This book would lead to so many discussions about friendship, communication, trust, and art history. It's a great read and I can't wait to share it with my students!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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