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The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

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Overview

Discoveries

Amedeo Kaplan dreams of discovering something — some treasure no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would like to discover a true friend to share this with.

Improbably, he finds the friend in aloof, edgy William Wilcox. And even more improbably, he finds his treasure among the memorabilia in the house of his eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender. But Amedeo and William find more than treasure — they find a story that links a ...

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The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

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Overview

Discoveries

Amedeo Kaplan dreams of discovering something — some treasure no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would like to discover a true friend to share this with.

Improbably, he finds the friend in aloof, edgy William Wilcox. And even more improbably, he finds his treasure among the memorabilia in the house of his eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender. But Amedeo and William find more than treasure — they find a story that links a sketch, a young boy's life, an old man's reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. And they discover unexpected truths about art, friendship, history, heroism, and the mysteries of the human heart.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Amedeo Kaplan covets two secret wishes. He dreams of somehow making a significant discovery; he also wishes that he could find one true friend. In the quiet transient navy town of St. Malo, Florida, both dreams seem unrealistic. Prospects gradually brighten when Amedeo and an introspective boy named William Wilcox find themselves working in an old mansion that teems with history -- and one very big secret. An enthralling tale by two-time Newbery winner E. L. Konigsburg.
Publishers Weekly

This complex work has all the trappings of vintage Konigsburg: unusually articulate children considering the adult world and trying to stake their claim on it; an art history-related mystery; a headlines-inspired story line; eccentric grown-ups; and, of course, incisive, often brilliant prose. Sad to say, the magic is missing. The action starts off promisingly. Amedeo Kaplan (son of characters met in The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place) has just moved to coastal Florida and made friends with William Wilcox, son of an estate sale manager (introduced in the story collection Throwing Shadows). As the boys help William's mother pack up the palatial home of Amedeo's next-door neighbor, a larger-than-life retired opera singer, Amedeo finds a signed Modigliani drawing. Because Amedeo has just returned from attending an art exhibit curated by another Outcastsalum, Peter Vanderwaal, on the subject of "degenerate" art (modern art criminalized by the Nazis), Amedeo is primed to uncover the history behind the drawing-a dark provenance that links the retired opera singer, the Vanderwaals and the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. While the author's material and style prove as stimulating as ever, her repeated reliance on coincidence weakens the book's impact. Her tried-and-true fans will forgive these contrivances, but newcomers should not start here. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Two sixth-grade boys, Amadeo Kaplan and William Wilcox, become friends as they work with William's mother to dismantle the contents of the home of former opera star Aida Lily Tull, whom they know as elderly and imperious Mrs. Zender. In a story somewhat reminiscent of Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, the boys stumble on a mystery involving the provenance of one of Mrs. Zender's pieces of art, a sketch called The Moon Lady which is connected through an elaborate chain of events to Amadeo's godfather's father's past in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Along the way, Konigsburg explores questions about the Nazi campaign against "degenerate art" and the subversive potential of art to transform, and even save, threatened lives. While Konigsburg offers an intriguing narrative that introduces young readers to a lesser-known evil crusade of the Third Reich, the plot begins to feel creaky and cumbersome as the various unlikely and confusing coincidences accumulate. While Mrs. Zender emerges as a three-dimensional character, morally flawed without being morally reprehensible, it is unclear why Konigsburg chose to make William's mother, a successful and knowledgeable manager of estate sales, speak in sentences like "I read about some of them parties" and "I done some reading." Still, the book should appeal to intellectually ambitious young readers who would share Amadeo's delight in showing off his knowledge of the correct way to pronounce the name of the artist Modligliani (the g is silent).
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8
This humorous, poignant, tragic, and mysterious story has intertwining plots that peel away like the layers of an onion. An unlikely friendship develops between two precocious sixth graders as they unite to sort through the belongings of an eccentric, pretentious, and intriguing neighbor. William's mother is a liquidator hired to evaluate Mrs. Zender's possessions as the old woman gets ready to move into a residence for senior citizens, and William is helping her. Amadeo asks to join him in the project. William is a bright, sophisticated youngster; Amadeo, the new kid in St. Malo, FL, dreams of someday making an important discovery. He suspects there are possibilities among Mrs. Zender's belongings, particularly a piece of art by Modigliani. Amadeo's godfather, Peter Vanderwaal, is preparing an exhibit of Degenerate Art for the Sheboygan Art Center. This plotline leads to a discovery about Mr. Zender's past. Through old letters, parts of a memoir written by Peter's father, Peter's introduction to his exhibit, and thumbnail biographies of the artists deemed unfit by the Nazis, readers are educated about this aspect of Nazi repression. Dramatic revelations about the victimization of homosexuals and other figures during the Holocaust also become part of the story. In spite of these necessary intrusions, readers will be eager to discover the truth about the Zenders and the suspicious art treasure. Konigsburg, a master of characterization, has created a cast of idiosyncratic people and skillfully embedded them in an appealing tale of friendship, loyalty, and mystery.
—Renee SteinbergCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Sixth-grader Amedeo Kaplan (son of now-divorced Jake Kaplan and Loretta Bevilaqua, and godson of Peter Vanderwaal, from Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, 2004) becomes intrigued with his neighbor Mrs. Zender, a flamboyant recluse. Once a second-tier opera diva, she can no longer afford "people" and, incapable of refilling her own champagne glass, must move to a senior residence. Enter Mrs. Wilcox, "liquidator" of estates, and her son William. The two boys help every afternoon, sorting and tagging items, until Amedeo finds a drawing signed "Modigliani," and they unravel a mystery that amazingly involves both the Vanderwaals and the Wexlers-the story of the Nazi confiscation of "Degenerate art," of postwar blackmail and of a heroic gesture. Amedeo's own revelations (about what people are made of and how to see it) are so intricately delivered that the very patient young readers who have made it to the end of the story may find they have to grow into it. But there's plenty to grow into. Quirky, wandering, sometimes unbelievable, it nevertheless takes firm root in the reader's mind, training their eye to watch for stories that need discovering. (Fiction. 11-14)
From the Publisher
"Humorous, poignant, tragic, and mysterious...Konigsburg, a master of characterization, has created a cast of idiosyncratic people and skillfully embedded them in an appealing tale of friendship, loyalty, and mystery." — School Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416949725
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 9/25/2007
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 741,662
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 0.90 (h) x 8.40 (d)

Meet the Author

E.L. Konigsburg is the only author to have won the Newbery Medal and be runner-up in the same year. In 1968, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the Newbery Medal and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was named a Newbery Honor Book. Almost thirty years later she won the Newbery Medal once again for The View From Saturday. She has also written and illustrated three picture books: Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Colors, Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Inventions, and Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale’s. In 2000 she wrote Silent to the Bone, which was named a New York Times Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, among many other honors.

After completing her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Konigsburg did graduate work in organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. For several years she taught science at a private girls’ school. When the third of her three children started kindergarten, she began to write. She now lives on the beach in North Florida.

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Introduction

PRE-READING ACTIVITY

Define the terms "censorship" and "degenerate." Learn about the National Socialist Society for German Culture, and their efforts to censor art they called degenerate. (http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/artdegen.htm).

DISCUSSION TOPICS

Amedeo Kaplan is the new kid in town and at school which makes him feel "alone and anonymous." Amedeo meets William Wilcox and observes that he isn't "so much alone as aloof." What is the difference between being alone and aloof? How does being aloof protect one from being alone?

Amedeo Kaplan has a desire to discover something. Why does he think that moving to Florida will cause him to give up his dream? Debate whether Amedeo is blindsided by his discovery at Mrs. Zender's house. How does his discovery contribute to important changes in the lives of each of the characters in the novel?

Explain the difference between a relationship and a friendship. How does Amedeo's business relationship with William Wilcox develop into a friendship? Why might the two boys seem unlikely friends? What does each boy bring to the friendship? At first William appears to be the dominant person in the friendship. At what point does this begin to change? Amedeo says, "I think you always give a part of yourself away when you make a friend." What part of himself does Amedeo give away?

Both Amedeo and William have been lost in adult worlds. How are their adult worlds different? How do their adult worlds complicate their adolescent friendship? Compare Mrs. Zender's childhood to that of Amedeo and William. Debate whether Amedeo recognizes a little of himself in Mrs. Zender. How does this contribute to hiseventual affection for her? At what point does Amedeo realize that Mrs. Zender needs and desires his friendship?

Mrs. Zender, an opera singer, played many roles in her short career. She says, "I never felt more like myself than when I was onstage being someone else." How did being onstage make Mrs. Zender anonymous? How do Mrs. Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender compete for center stage in the novel? Discuss which character wins the role.

What does Konigsburg mean when she uses the phrase "turn away anger"? How do Ellen Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender "turn away anger"? Discuss Amedeo's role in helping each of these adult characters deal with their anger.

Explain what Mrs. Zender means when she says to Amedeo, "Ninety percent of who you are is invisible." How does this statement also explain the difference between naked and nude? What part of the ninety percent of Mrs. Zender is revealed by the end of the novel? Explain what the discovery of "The Moon Lady" reveals about Amedeo's character.

Mrs. Vanderwaal says, "I don't think, Mrs. Zender, that you can possibly call Eisenhuth or Zender a hero. And you, Mrs. Zender, do not get to choose." How might Mrs. Zender and Mrs. Vanderwaal's definition of a hero differ? Who is the real hero in the novel? Is there just one?

Peter Vanderwaal includes the following quote by Adolf Hitler on the inside cover of the "Once Forbidden" catalog: "Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized." Why does Peter Vanderwaal call this quote an epitaph? Discuss the difference between an epitaph and a memorial. How does "The Moon Lady" become a memorial to Pieter Van Der Waal?

Discuss the cunning, kind, shabby, and heroic edge of Mrs. Zender.

READING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM: ACTIVITIES & RESEARCH

Konigsburg uses the following metaphor to convey the character of William Wilcox: "In a school as variegated as an argyle sock, William Wilcox was not part of the pattern." (p. 3) Write a brief character sketch of William Wilcox that supports Konigsburg's metaphor. Then write appropriate metaphors that best describe Amedeo Kaplan, Mrs. Zender, Peter Vanderwaal, Mrs. Vanderwaal, Mrs. Wilcox, and Mrs. Kaplan.

Konigsburg states in the novel, "Friendship is a combination of art and craft." (p. 128) Write a brief essay that describes Amedeo and William's friendship as both art and craft.

When Aida Tull (Mrs. Zender) went away to study opera, the local newspaper referred to her as "our local diva." Write an article titled "Our Local Diva" for the local newspaper that might have appeared at the end of the novel.

Amedeo's father, Jake, told him to look at abstract art like he was "listening to a conversation in a foreign language." (p. 93) Research abstract art and develop a glossary of terms for describing it. Locate a work from Picasso's Blue Period and write a review of it using this newly developed vocabulary.

Peter Vanderwaal is the director of the Sheboygan Art Museum. Find out the difference between a curator and an art director. Locate the best colleges in the nation for preparing for a career as an art administrator. Write a letter for admission to one of these colleges.

Design an illustrated catalog for the "Once Forbidden" exhibit. Locate actual art images on the Internet by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Gustav Klimt, and Georges Braque that might be included in the exhibit. Copy these images into the catalog and write a brief description of each work. Select a favorite work from one of these artists for the cover of the catalog. Peter Vanderwaal uses Picasso's "Harlequin at Rest."

Artists favored by the Third Reich include: Ernst Vollbehr, Arno Breker, Adolph Wissel, Hubert Lanzinger, Albert Janesh, and Josef Thorak. Select one of these artists and write a brief essay that describes their work and why they were approved by Hitler and the Third Reich.

The "Degenerate Art" exhibit that Peter Vanderwaal saw in San Francisco traveled to art museums across the nation. The exhibit raised several important questions: Who gives a government the right to dictate what people are permitted to like? Should taste be a matter for a government to decide? Read about the conflict in our own nation over the National Endowment for the Arts (www.crf-usa.org/bria/bria13_2.html). Stage a class debate regarding the controversy about government funding and the NEA. Should the NEA censor art that the organization funds? Is this government enforced-censorship?

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Guide prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing - www.SimonSaysTEACH.com

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Reading Group Guide

PRE-READING ACTIVITY

Define the terms "censorship" and "degenerate." Learn about the National Socialist Society for German Culture, and their efforts to censor art they called degenerate. (http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/artdegen.htm).

DISCUSSION TOPICS

Amedeo Kaplan is the new kid in town and at school which makes him feel "alone and anonymous." Amedeo meets William Wilcox and observes that he isn't "so much alone as aloof." What is the difference between being alone and aloof? How does being aloof protect one from being alone?

Amedeo Kaplan has a desire to discover something. Why does he think that moving to Florida will cause him to give up his dream? Debate whether Amedeo is blindsided by his discovery at Mrs. Zender's house. How does his discovery contribute to important changes in the lives of each of the characters in the novel?

Explain the difference between a relationship and a friendship. How does Amedeo's business relationship with William Wilcox develop into a friendship? Why might the two boys seem unlikely friends? What does each boy bring to the friendship? At first William appears to be the dominant person in the friendship. At what point does this begin to change? Amedeo says, "I think you always give a part of yourself away when you make a friend." What part of himself does Amedeo give away?

Both Amedeo and William have been lost in adult worlds. How are their adult worlds different? How do their adult worlds complicate their adolescent friendship? Compare Mrs. Zender's childhood to that of Amedeo and William. Debate whether Amedeo recognizes a little of himself in Mrs. Zender. How does this contribute to his eventual affection for her? At what point does Amedeo realize that Mrs. Zender needs and desires his friendship?

Mrs. Zender, an opera singer, played many roles in her short career. She says, "I never felt more like myself than when I was onstage being someone else." How did being onstage make Mrs. Zender anonymous? How do Mrs. Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender compete for center stage in the novel? Discuss which character wins the role.

What does Konigsburg mean when she uses the phrase "turn away anger"? How do Ellen Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender "turn away anger"? Discuss Amedeo's role in helping each of these adult characters deal with their anger.

Explain what Mrs. Zender means when she says to Amedeo, "Ninety percent of who you are is invisible." How does this statement also explain the difference between naked and nude? What part of the ninety percent of Mrs. Zender is revealed by the end of the novel? Explain what the discovery of "The Moon Lady" reveals about Amedeo's character.

Mrs. Vanderwaal says, "I don't think, Mrs. Zender, that you can possibly call Eisenhuth or Zender a hero. And you, Mrs. Zender, do not get to choose." How might Mrs. Zender and Mrs. Vanderwaal's definition of a hero differ? Who is the real hero in the novel? Is there just one?

Peter Vanderwaal includes the following quote by Adolf Hitler on the inside cover of the "Once Forbidden" catalog: "Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized." Why does Peter Vanderwaal call this quote an epitaph? Discuss the difference between an epitaph and a memorial. How does "The Moon Lady" become a memorial to Pieter Van Der Waal?

Discuss the cunning, kind, shabby, and heroic edge of Mrs. Zender.

READING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM: ACTIVITIES & RESEARCH

Konigsburg uses the following metaphor to convey the character of William Wilcox: "In a school as variegated as an argyle sock, William Wilcox was not part of the pattern." (p. 3) Write a brief character sketch of William Wilcox that supports Konigsburg's metaphor. Then write appropriate metaphors that best describe Amedeo Kaplan, Mrs. Zender, Peter Vanderwaal, Mrs. Vanderwaal, Mrs. Wilcox, and Mrs. Kaplan.

Konigsburg states in the novel, "Friendship is a combination of art and craft." (p. 128) Write a brief essay that describes Amedeo and William's friendship as both art and craft.

When Aida Tull (Mrs. Zender) went away to study opera, the local newspaper referred to her as "our local diva." Write an article titled "Our Local Diva" for the local newspaper that might have appeared at the end of the novel.

Amedeo's father, Jake, told him to look at abstract art like he was "listening to a conversation in a foreign language." (p. 93) Research abstract art and develop a glossary of terms for describing it. Locate a work from Picasso's Blue Period and write a review of it using this newly developed vocabulary.

Peter Vanderwaal is the director of the Sheboygan Art Museum. Find out the difference between a curator and an art director. Locate the best colleges in the nation for preparing for a career as an art administrator. Write a letter for admission to one of these colleges.

Design an illustrated catalog for the "Once Forbidden" exhibit. Locate actual art images on the Internet by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Gustav Klimt, and Georges Braque that might be included in the exhibit. Copy these images into the catalog and write a brief description of each work. Select a favorite work from one of these artists for the cover of the catalog. Peter Vanderwaal uses Picasso's "Harlequin at Rest."

Artists favored by the Third Reich include: Ernst Vollbehr, Arno Breker, Adolph Wissel, Hubert Lanzinger, Albert Janesh, and Josef Thorak. Select one of these artists and write a brief essay that describes their work and why they were approved by Hitler and the Third Reich.

The "Degenerate Art" exhibit that Peter Vanderwaal saw in San Francisco traveled to art museums across the nation. The exhibit raised several important questions: Who gives a government the right to dictate what people are permitted to like? Should taste be a matter for a government to decide? Read about the conflict in our own nation over the National Endowment for the Arts (www.crf-usa.org/bria/bria13_2.html). Stage a class debate regarding the controversy about government funding and the NEA. Should the NEA censor art that the organization funds? Is this government enforced-censorship?

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Guide prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing - www.SimonSaysTEACH.com

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    a reviewer

    this bok is the best! i have to read theis book for my book club for language arts in school and it is soo good. we were studying characters and i did wiliam. he is amazing. i definatly recommend this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    it was a great book but ad teribble english i still recommend it was awesome youll love bye everyone.

    had bad english couldlnt under stand the book its still a great book i recommend it thank for listing to me enjoy the rest of your shopping.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2012

    Good story

    Good story, Well told -- lots of good teaching material

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2007

    Not recommended

    It was an unusual mystery. I thought many parts were wordy and too descriptive. This is only the second book that I've read from this author. Silent to the Bone was more interesting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 25, 2011

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    Posted December 11, 2010

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    Posted August 14, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2011

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