Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Under the Egg

Under the Egg

4.4 5
by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
     
 

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Chasing Vermeer in this clever middle grade debut

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to

Overview

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Chasing Vermeer in this clever middle grade debut

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/16/2013
As he lay dying, Theodora Tenpenny’s grandfather Jack muttered something about a treasure “under the egg.” Theodora, 13, thinks this means that Jack—a thrifty, unknown artist—left a means of providing for Theo and her unreliable mother. She searches the mantelpiece, beneath Jack’s painting of an egg, and the bowl where they display an egg gathered from the chicken coop behind their Greenwich Village townhouse. Nothing. Then an accident uncovers another image under Jack’s painting, sending Theo and her new friend Bodhi, the daughter of two film stars, on a mission to discover the provenance of what appears to be a Renaissance masterpiece. Theo is smart and resourceful, and debut author Fitzgerald creates a plausible backstory for the teen’s uncanny ability to spot “the difference between a Manet and a Monet.” While the resolution falls into place too easily, the search for answers forces Theo out of her shell and into the wonderfully quirky community around her. Fans of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Under the Egg 

An Indie Next List Pick!

"It's really a very compelling read and I don't know how she did it." – Kate DiCamillo on NPR

“With surprising twists, heartwarming moments and historical facts, Laura Marx Fitzgerald creates the perfect adventure in Under the Egg. Art enthusiast or not, any girl will love this book.” – GirlsLife.com

* "Along with the themes of research, family commitment, and Holocaust history, fans of Koningsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer will thrill at the chance to solve a new mystery centered around art." - Library Media Connection, starred review

"Uniquely readable, entirely charming, and a pleasure from start to finish. Debuts this good are meant to be discovered." – Betsy Bird, SLJ Fuse 8 Blog

"A fast-paced mystery...If Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code wrote middle-grade novels, this would be the one." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history." - Publishers Weekly

"Fans of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and Elise Broach’s Masterpiece will enjoy this art caper." - School Library Journal

"A gripping mystery with high stakes and moving historical context...[Fitzgerald's] focus on restitution and the personal value of art adds considerable depth to the narrative." - The Horn Book

"Under the Egg” is an exciting page-turner." - Deseret News

"Riveting from start to finish." - BookPage

“This mix of mystery, history and art will keep readers wondering right up to the surprising end.” – Discovery Girls 
 

School Library Journal
02/01/2014
Gr 4–7—Before dying, Jack, Theodora's grandfather, whispers, "There's a letter… And a treasure" hidden "under the egg." After his passing, Theo could certainly use a treasure; her absentminded mother hides herself away on the top floor of their dilapidated Greenwich Village townhouse while the 13-year-old struggles to make ends meet with the $463 that Jack left. Hanging above the mantelpiece is one of her late grandfather's paintings which depicts a large egg. Could a treasure be hiding underneath? An accident with a bottle of rubbing alcohol reveals an unusual image that sets the teen off on an art history adventure taking her from New York Public Library's Jefferson Market branch to a fancy Upper East Side auction house and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along the way, she befriends Bodhi, the jet-setting, paparazzi-hounded daughter of two celebrities; Reverend Cecily from Grace Church; and a punk-rock librarian named Eddie. Fitzgerald gets the Manhattan setting pitch-perfect; from the rich aroma of a roasted nut stand to the hushed hallways of the Met. While the mystery unwinds at an even pace through most of the book, the last few chapters conclude too quickly and readers may be disappointed in the all-too-convenient ending. Still, fans of Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, 2004) and Elise Broach's Masterpiece (Holt, 2008) will enjoy this art caper.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-07
This debut novel weaves art appreciation, restoration and dating techniques, and bits of history from the Renaissance and World War II into a fast-paced mystery. As the novel opens, 13-year-old Theodora Tenpenny explains her thrifty hobby of collecting trash from the city streets and turning it into useful objects. Then she recounts what happened merely three months ago: She found her adored grandfather, Jack, lying bloodied on a city street and heard his dying exhortation to "Look under the egg." Theodora, who has spent her life living with her emotionally incapacitated mother and her crusty, artistic, capable grandfather, knows she must follow this clue in order to become the family's next breadwinner. (Readers must suspend disbelief regarding social services in Manhattan.) Fortuitously, Theodora befriends Bodhi, also 13 but a member of a family of Hollywood celebrities. Theodora's knowledge of art history and Bodhi's skills in acting and in technology enable the girls to puzzle out the importance of Jack's final words. All the characters are relatively flat, including first-person protagonist Theodora, but an original plot with humorous swipes at rich-and-famous lifestyles and authentic references to New York City will keep readers interested. Occasionally, there are awkward or dense passages, but they are balanced by quirky encounters, as with Eddie, a tattooed librarian. If Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code wrote middle-grade novels, this would be the one. (Mystery. 9-13)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803740013
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
03/18/2014
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
270,678
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter Two

Eighteen Spinney Lane is easy to find. Just cast your eyes past the row of gleaming town houses, with their uniform brick facades and polished brass plaques and, in some cases, packs of paparazzi. 

Then find the one house that looks like the residents are ready to just pack it in and get that condo in Florida.

That’s ours.

It wasn’t always like this. Great-great-great-great-grandfather Tenpenny made a fortune in shipping and found himself an elegant street (formerly a hardscrabble thicket, or “spinney”) to build himself not one, but two town houses: one for his wife and children, and an adjoining one for his mother, complete with connecting doorways on each floor.

As it turns out, this building boom represented the peak of the Tenpenny fortune, and a year later the adjoining town house had been rented out and Grandma moved in with the rest of the family. As time went on, Greenwich Village was abandoned as the city’s elite moved farther and farther uptown, but we Tenpennys stayed put.

On that hot July day, I used my new sneakers to kick the business cards and flyers (“Dear Occupant, Do you need cash—and quick? Let Town Home Realty handle your home sale!”) off the stoop and jiggled the front door’s brass doorknob until it finally surrendered.

No warm welcome here. Just the hot, stale parlor, silent and thick with the smell of musty books and last winter’s pop-in from a stray cat. With Jack by my side, the room held a certain artistic-eccentric charm: an antique desk repaired with an oak branch in place of a leg, an ottoman made out of Yellow Pages bound together with sailor’s knots, autumn leaves ironed between sheets of waxed paper and wallpapered around the room. But now, alone, with the autumn leaves drifting to the ground as the glue gave out, the place just looked odd, like a stylish great-aunt who has begun wearing her wig backward.

A breeze from the dining room windows brought in the clucking of our backyard chickens, probably thirsty and impatient for dinner. Jack had started a little garden plot back there in the Great Depression, and now that garden had taken over the entire lot, including not just rows of veggies, but an apple tree, a raspberry bush, and a well-built coop for a fine flock of chickens.

At least for now. I’d lost one this week to a Jurassic-sized rat. Camille had been a tough old broad; she could’ve taken that rat. But since Jack died, I think we’d all had the fight knocked out of us.

The grandfather clock in the corner struck five low tones. The chickens would have to wait. It was teatime.

The stairs to the second floor creaked under my weight, made heavier by the tarnished silver tray with hard-boiled eggs and a chipped teapot, which I carried like a waitress.

Using my free hand, I gave three knocks. No answer.

Mom didn’t so much as glance up from her desk as I pushed my way in. From the door I could see beads of sweat running down the back of her neck, below a knot of straw-colored hair bound up absently with a pencil. She wore her terry-cloth bathrobe, even in the stifling, dank room, with its scent of fermenting tea bags and dirty laundry.

“I’ve got your tea.” I set the tray on the floor next to her chair. Mom got pretty agitated if I put anything on her desk, which was blanketed in yellow papers filled with numbers and cryptic characters. She said nothing and continued scratching a pencil on her latest legal pad.

Jack said my mom was always a bit “off,” even as a little girl. It’s not that she was crazy or even slow. It’s just that she always preferred the world inside her mind to the world outside.

I can understand this, not having much to do with the neighborhood kids myself. I’ve never met one who could even tell you the difference between a standard and a Phillips head. But Jack said Angelika was different than all that. She used to go out, help with chores, go to school. Her teachers and professors used words like “genius” and “extraordinarily gifted.” But as the years went by, she withdrew deeper and deeper within herself, and now here she was, at her childhood desk in her childhood room, working on a dissertation that NYU stopped expecting over fifteen years ago.

Since Jack’s death, she’d started refusing to leave her desk at all, save for her daily morning walk to the tea shop, where she religiously collected every variety they sold. But I caught her last week trying to leave the house in her bathrobe, so clearly things were going south.

My dad I don’t know at all. My mother barely did either. Jack said he was a grifter who seduced my mom just to get his hands on the deed to our house. He sent the guy running.

I started to gather up the stray teacups from the windowsill, crouching to snag a few from under the bed.

“How’s the dissertation going, Mom?”

Scritch scratch.

“Solving any theorems?”

“Well, I thought I’d made a breakthrough, but clearly the unique factorization approach won’t work.” She shook her head, never looking up from her notepad. “Unique factorization. Silly.”

“Huh.” I sat down on the bed and its tangle of sheets. “Mom, have you given any more thought to what we talked about? About selling the house? We could get a lot of money for it, I think. And we could get an apartment somewhere else in the city, maybe Brooklyn or Queens or somewhere cheaper like that.”

Mom’s pencil paused in the air, and she turned her sallow face slowly to stare at me. “What house?” she asked, her voice low.

“Um, this one?”

She dropped her pencil, her hands shaking. “Sell this house? But where would I work? My desk has always been right here. It’s the perfect place; I can see the birds in the tree outside. See their nest? That’s just where I look when I am working on an equation. And my bed is right here,” she waved her hand in my direction, “in the perfect spot, so the light can fall on my pillow in the morning. Sell the house? No, no, no, it’s just not possible.” Her voice became higher and thinner as she shook her head wildly, and I noticed she had started winding a loose thread from her bathrobe tightly around one finger. “And where would I buy my tea? Madame Dumont always has the perfect blend ready—”

“Okay, Mom, okay. We’re not going anywhere,” I broke in. “Not yet.”

“Because all my papers are here, my archives, you see.” She frantically pawed the piles and scraps that surrounded her. “And I still have to organize them, put them in order, and my footnotes—”

“We’re not selling the house, okay?” I stood up brusquely, knocking two teacups off her book-cluttered night table, which rolled under the bed. “But, Mom, I’m serious. We can’t afford all this.” My hand waved over the mess, as if I were surveying the Taj Mahal. “And when winter comes, there’s the gas bill and the electric bill. I’m not sure how much longer the boiler is going to hold out. How are we going to pay for that?”

Now she was humming again.

“Mom, are you sure Jack didn’t mention anything about a secret stash? Somewhere he would have hidden—I don’t know, money? Jewels? You know, like a treasure?”

No answer.

I began to collect the teacups again. “Should I bring up some dinner in a little while?”

I looked up to see her dangling the Lipton tea bag in front of her eyes, hot drops of tea splattering the papers that carpeted the floor. “Where’s my vanilla Rooibos?”

“The Rooibos tea is gone, Mom. And that’s what I’m talking about. You can’t buy these expensive teas from the shop anymore. I got this kind for you—”

“But vanilla Rooibos is my afternoon tea. It’s made with Madagascar vanilla, which is the finest vanilla, at least that’s what Madame Dumont says. I’ll get some more in the morning. Madame Dumont said she’d have a new shipment of Golden Assam ready for me . . .”

I closed the door behind me as my mother began to methodically categorize the differences between Indian and Chinese tea leaves.

After tending to the garden, the chickens, and some clogged gutters, I took my own dinner to the top floor and the room that was once Jack’s studio. Jack and I had traditionally sat down together in the old dining room, where we’d spoon up our rice and beans on the Tenpenny china and then send our dishes back down to the kitchen in the dumbwaiter. But now the big dining table felt cold, even in the heat, and I preferred to eat somewhere more filled with Jack’s presence.

The studio was stuffy with paint fumes, and I cracked the tall windows that lined the studio’s back wall, letting in the relative cool of early evening and snatches of rush hour car horns. From my favorite spot on the long window seat, you could see the block’s patchwork of yards below and catch glimpses of the Hudson River. Sometimes I’d sit and watch the pigeon flocks swoop back and forth over the rooftops. Funny how something so ragged on its own can become so beautiful when banded together.

As I ate, I riffled through the mail I’d brought up with me. One official-looking letter, with a large seal featuring an American eagle, fell to the floor. The return address: the Department of Veteran Affairs.

To whom it may concern:

The Department of Veterans Affairs was recently alerted of the death of John Thornton Tenpenny V. This letter is to notify you that all existing and future VA pension benefits will be hereby terminated.

Please accept our condolences at this time of your bereavement. Mr. Tenpenny’s sacrifice and service to his country are deeply appreciated. 

Sincerely yours,

Roger D. Fowlke
Department of Veterans Affairs

I read the letter several times over. Veterans Affairs? When I did my sixth-grade history fair project on World War II, Jack told me he sat out the whole thing on account of his asthma. It seemed strange that the VA would hand out pensions to 4-Fs with breathing issues.

More to the point, the letter meant that Jack had run the household with money I’d never known about. Money that had now dried up. I put the letter down and reached for a Mason jar, tucked in with assorted paint cans and bottles of paint thinner. The jar had once held some sky blue paint, now dried and opaque, which hid the bills and coins inside. Jack had always kept five hundred dollars in this jar, spending it down to the pennies, and then replenishing with a fresh five hundred from some unknown source.

Once, when I was around five, Jack caught me trying to sneak some change out to buy a candy bar. He roared—the only time he ever directed his famous temper at me—enraged more by the betrayal than the theft. “But it’s a magic jar,” I gasped between my sobs. “You take money out, and it always comes back.” He got down on one knee, his strong, paint-flecked hands gripping my shoulders. “It’s not magic. It’s hard work that fills that jar. The hard work of earning the money, and the harder work of keeping it.” His hands moved to my cheeks, wiping the tears into his calloused palms. “Now, don’t cry, sister. You’ll see—I’ll make sure there’s always money to be found.”

Tonight I poured out the jar’s contents and counted it again—$384. On the day Jack died, there had been $463. I guess I was lucky that he died only a week after refilling the jar. From that day forward, I had done the hard work of keeping what we had: eating only from the garden and the pantry, avoiding our few functional appliances even as the red-lined utility bills kept streaming through the mail slot. I’d even given up the Laundromat, hand-washing my sweaty clothes in the kitchen sink and drying them on the backyard line.

Still, no matter how hard I worked, the money couldn’t hold out forever. Jack was right—the only magic around here was the money’s disappearing act.

That left us only one lifeline: Jack’s promised “treasure.” I popped a last raspberry in my mouth and crossed over to the studio’s defunct fireplace, where atop a grand marble mantel a chicken egg sat in a small ceramic bowl.

My first official chore in the Tenpenny house had been the placement of that egg. Every morning, Jack and I would gather the chickens’ output and select the whitest, most perfect egg of the lot. The rest of the half dozen or so went to the kitchen. The egg of honor went to the mantel. Jack would lift me in his arms, and I’d gently place the egg in the bowl made by my grandmother, a woman I knew only through Jack’s stories of her skill at the potter’s wheel and her fine Scandanavian cooking.

“A new day, a new beginning, a new chance at a new ending,” Jack would intone solemnly. It was as close as he ever got to morning prayers. 

The egg would sit in its place of honor through the day until it was replaced by the next morning’s selection, when it joined the other eggs in the kitchen.

But for that one day, its only job was to echo the painting above it. One of Jack’s earliest pieces,
the canvas was an abstract, a dark swirling abyss of midnight blues, black like charred wood, and gray like the dawn. And floating in this void was a stark white oval that haloed the real egg below.

Canvases came and went in Jack’s studio—sold, lent, shown—but this one stayed above the mantel, supervising the Changing of the Egg each morning. Jack said he’d never sell it. I don’t think I ever saw him so much as move it for dusting.

That was before The Spot on Spinney Street. And his last words.

Since then, every night after dinner, I worked into the last moments of the day’s light to find out whether there was anything “under the egg” at all.

Maybe “under the egg” was just the last random outburst of a blood-soaked brain. But Jack always said he’d take care of me. He always said I’d find out when I was ready. It stood to reason that, whatever there was to find, was indeed under the egg.

The only problem was that “under the egg” could mean a lot of things—and whatever it meant, I hadn’t figured it out. Standing on a chair I’d dragged over, I was still surprised by how much heavier this painting was in my arms than most of Jack’s works. For some reason it was painted on wood instead of canvas. 

That was just one of the painting’s oddities. Another was the frame. Jack rarely framed anything.
Usually he sold everything just as he painted it, a canvas on its stretchers. Never with a gilded frame. And while Jack usually worked on a grand scale, sometimes on canvases that almost reached the ceiling, this painting was puny by comparison. Just two or three feet high and not quite as wide. I’m not exactly strapping, but I could manage it fairly easily, and I placed it carefully on the floor against Jack’s worktable, still cluttered as he left it with bottles and rags and coffee cans filled with paintbrushes.

I went through the same motions that had as of yet revealed nothing. Flip it around, pore over the back (some faded stamps on the wood, now illegible). Peek around the edges where the painting meets the frame (nada). Inspect the bottom half of the painting, particularly the underside of the frame (nada again).

Next, the mantel. Anything in the bowl, under the actual egg? Nope. Anything under the bowl—either on the underside or sitting on the mantel? Nope. Anything under the mantel? I’d tried to remove the shelf that formed the top, but it was fastened tight. One night I’d used a screwdriver to chip out two or three bricks from the hearth, but only found dark, rotting floorboards beneath.

And so each night ended in a same sense of defeat, the light fading and the shadows settling over the studio.

On that night, I flopped myself down on the floor and contemplated the bare wall above the mantel, wondering if it would be worth busting it open (with what—a drill? a sledgehammer?).

Then a mouse ran up my leg.

Now, I live in an old house in the city. I’ve seen my share of mice, even rats. I’ve seen them on the street, on the subway, even at the playground. But seeing a rodent is one thing. Letting one run up your leg is another.

I jumped, screaming, to my feet, scrambling onto the chair (which was sort of pointless, seeing as how the mouse was already clinging to my leg) and kicking my legs wildly. The last kick sent the little guy leaping for my petticoat, where he dug his claws in some lace trim and held on for dear life. Crazed flapping followed to no effect, so I finally pulled off the skirt, flinging it blindly toward Jack’s worktable, where it toppled paintbrushes and bottles of who knows what.

The studio was quiet as I caught my breath and waited for the mouse to emerge from the crumpled skirt. Within seconds I saw his whiskers peeking out of the waistband. “Out!” I shouted, shaking the skirt by the hem, and he bolted, skittering his way over the mess of Jack’s table and leaping past the painting still propped below.

The painting! As I looked down, I saw that a bottle of rubbing alcohol had overturned, spilling its contents over the surface, dragging and mixing colors along its path.

I grabbed an old bandanna off the table and dabbed frantically at the liquid. But the more I rubbed, the more paint I removed, as the rag I held became stormy with a soup of dark colors and the white smears that had once formed the egg.

I crouched there frozen, my hand wavering in midair, my heart sinking as the last connection to my grandfather melted away. As the night’s shadows filled the studio, they seemed to pause respectfully just over my shoulder. And as I peered in the dusk, I could just make out—under the paint that was once that everlasting egg—a bird in flight.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Under the Egg 

An Indie Next List Pick!

"It's really a very compelling read and I don't know how she did it." – Kate DiCamillo on NPR

“With surprising twists, heartwarming moments and historical facts, Laura Marx Fitzgerald creates the perfect adventure in Under the Egg. Art enthusiast or not, any girl will love this book.” – GirlsLife.com

• "Along with the themes of research, family commitment, and Holocaust history, fans of Koningsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer will thrill at the chance to solve a new mystery centered around art." - Library Media Connection, starred review

"Uniquely readable, entirely charming, and a pleasure from start to finish. Debuts this good are meant to be discovered." – Betsy Bird, SLJ Fuse 8 Blog

"A fast-paced mystery...If Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code wrote middle-grade novels, this would be the one." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history." - Publishers Weekly

"Fans of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and Elise Broach’s Masterpiece will enjoy this art caper." - School Library Journal

"A gripping mystery with high stakes and moving historical context...[Fitzgerald's] focus on restitution and the personal value of art adds considerable depth to the narrative." - The Horn Book

"Under the Egg” is an exciting page-turner." - Deseret News

"Riveting from start to finish." - BookPage

“This mix of mystery, history and art will keep readers wondering right up to the surprising end.” – Discovery Girls 
 

Meet the Author

In writing Under the Egg, Laura Marx Fitzgerald drew on her study of art history at Harvard and Cambridge Universities. She lives in Brooklyn, and this is her middle grade debut.

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