An ink set, six legs, and a stolen drawing…

Masterpiece

By Elise Broach

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Marvin is a beetle. He and his family live behind the kitchen cabinets in the Pompaday’s New York City apartment. James Pompaday and Marvin become fast friends when James discovers that Marvin has a fantastic ability to draw intricate, little drawings. Of course, it’s this skill and the fact that James’ parents think that he is the one that is making the drawings, that James and Marvin are drawn into a scheme to fake the burglary of a famous Albrecht Dürer drawing from the MET art museum. Will James and Marvin be able to recreate the famous drawing? Will Marvin make it safely back home, or will he be lost at the art museum forever?


Initial Thoughts

I read this book aloud to my kids over the course of about two months, and to be perfectly honest, at first I was bored. The story did not capture my attention, and I think the kids were having a hard time paying attention to it as well. My daughter had already read the book for school, so she already knew what was going to happen. Some of the characters really bothered me, and the story seemed to have a slow start. However, having said all that, if you can stick it out to the end, it’s actually a great read. This book presents a fair number of opportunities for you to have some serious life discussions with your kids, especially if you are willing to read the book along with them.


Quotes and Other Thoughts

…[Forgiveness] was something you offered to another person, rather than something you demanded of yourself.

p.263

Why is forgiveness important to you? Have you been forgiven for something that you did? Have you forgiven someone else for some hurt they brought into your life?

Dürer’s four virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice all embody admirable traits that any person would be better for possessing. James recognizes, with wisdom beyond his age, that these aren’t the only good traits a person can have. When it is discovered who stole the drawing, James’ inclination is to offer forgiveness. I’m proud of the little guy for that. Forgiveness is not something that comes easily to too many of us. Instead, we want justice. We want people to pay for their crimes, no matter how big or small. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be consequences for our actions, but anyone who has the courage and strength to offer forgiveness is a better person for it.

He [Marvin] was beginning to understand that some of the most irritating things his family did stemmed from the depth of their love.

p.267

How has society changed since you were young? Would you trust your young children to go “exploring” outside without any supervision? Why or why not?

Marvin spends a great deal of time contemplating some heavy topics such as friendship and forgiveness. He is surrounded throughout the story by members of his family, but James is really his only friend. Don’t get me wrong, he loves his family, but I think he is feeling a stifled by his family. He wants to learn and explore, but his family is continually reminding him of the dangers he could face. Marvin has to weigh the consequences of putting himself at risk versus choosing not to help his friend in a time of great need. That’s a tough decision to make at any age!

Marvin and His Mother
Marvin and his mother watch James, who is distressed at not seeing Marvin for several days. James doesn’t know how he will complete the drawing without Marvin’s help.

When I was young, I remember having a great deal of freedom to go “exploring,” but I can’t imagine letting my kids go down to the creek at the bottom of the hill to explore on their own. I guess I’ve just been programmed that there are too many weirdos out there for me to believe that my kids will be safe. It’s sad because they are missing out on opportunities to learn on their own and to develop a sense of independence. I believe that it is our job to keep our kids safe, but also to help them learn to operate on their own so that when they grow up and go out on their own, they don’t need me to hold their hand through all of life’s experiences (good or bad). What are your thoughts on this?

Both James and Marvin are very young (somewhere between 10 and 12 years of age, I think). For most of the story, James and Marvin are with James’ father, but there is one part where they venture off on their own, walking 12 blocks in New York City on their adventure to find the stolen Dürer drawing. I can’t for a second imagine being OK with letting my young son (or daughter for that matter) walk by themselves anywhere in our neighborhood, let alone a big city. Now granted, James did not get permission to do this, and his father was extremely worried about him while he was missing, so I’m not saying that James’ father was in favor of James’ actions. Marvin’s family was equally distraught when Marvin went missing overnight! This part of the story might give you an excellent opportunity to talk with your kids about how our world is changing and how sometimes you won’t let them do certain things because you love them and you want them to be safe.

I appreciated how both James and Marvin were loved by their families and that their families, while perhaps a *tad overprotective*, were only behaving in this way because of their love.

Marvin's Family Takes the Drawing
In the hopes that they can protect him from danger, Marvin’s family takes the drawing that he left on James’ desk.

When you saw different parts of the world, you saw different parts of yourself. And when you stayed home, where it was safe, those parts of yourself also stayed hidden.

p.268

What do you think about this statement?

This is something that I have struggled with for a while. How do you find a balance between taking risks and taking the safe route? Risk, by its definition, means that there is the potential for danger, injury, or loss of something valuable to you. The fear of the unknown can prevent us, and avoid those we love, from genuinely experiencing life the way I believe it was intended to be lived. Why do you think stories of mystery and fantasy and action all appeal so much to us? It’s because they are filled with characters who were willing to accept some level of risk, step into the unknown, and yes, they usually experience some pain and some hardship, but at the end of the story, they have grown because of it all.

I really like the way Matt Walker puts it in an article he wrote for Psychology Today about adventure:

At the core, adventure is the willingness to commit to an uncertain outcome with an open heart and a willingness to learn and engage. It is the ability to take a leap into the unknown with mindfulness and grace.

Matt Walker – Psychology Today

(Link to the Matt Walker – Psychology Today article)

Adventure is so important! Sitting on your couch reading a great book about a young person defeating the bad guys against all the odds, or watching YouTube videos of other people traveling to other countries and experiencing interesting new things will only get you so far. These activities are fun, yes, but they aren’t real adventures. There’s no risk for you. No reward. The only way to really live is it get up, go outside and go somewhere – anywhere. This blog is all about reading great books, but everyone once in a while put the bookmark in the book and seek out your own adventure.

A great friendship was like a great work of art, he thought. It took time and attention, and a spark of something that was impossible to describe. It was a happy, lucky accident, finding some kindred part of yourself in a total stranger.

p.287

Do you find it easy to make new friends?

I don’t, but I think that is in part due to my personality. I’m a very introverted person, happy to keep mostly to myself, so making new connections with people is difficult for me. It takes a lot of work.

I suppose that as a function of the difficulty I have in making new friends, my circle of close friends consists of only a few people that I have known for many years. These are the people I would trust my life with. Marvin and James found this kind of kindred spirit in one another. Although they couldn’t speak to each other, they found a way to understand one another.


Marvin's First Drawing
James discovers Marvin’s drawing of the scene as seen from James’ bedroom window.

What you will find in this book:

– Language (e.g., cursing): None
– Age-appropriate relationships (e.g., romance, etc.): None
– Tone (how the characters speak to/treat each other): It bothered me the way James’ mother spoke. She was always so hard and condescending. Her character was entirely self-serving, always looking for ways that she might benefit from her family, her friends, and even her children. Her first thought when she saw James’ drawing was how much she might be able to sell it for.
– Other Sensitive Topics: In this story, James’ parents are divorced. The author doesn’t dwell on the topic or really discuss how the divorce impacts James, but it is an everpresent reality in James’ life. His mother openly displays her disdain for James’ father, Karl, but yet she prominently displays his art, which her new husband can’t stand.

Overall, I did not find any of the content in the story objectionable or worthy of caution. While it took me a while to get into the story, I thought it made for a good story for young children.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or use the information in the following image to contact me via social media or email.

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