The Masterpiece Adventures, Book 1: The Miniature World of Marvin and James, by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy, 112 pp, RL 1.5

Almost five years ago, I reviewed Masterpiece with this high praise,"In the great tradition of EL Konigsburg's masterpiece of children's literature, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, with a little Cricket in Times Square thrown in, comes Elise Broach's fantastic new mystery Masterpiece, with superb illustrations by the wonderful Kelly Murphy, doing double duty as the illustrator of the text and the artist behind the creations of Marvin, the beetle with a true artistic gift." I love this book so much and in the years since reading it have recommended it to just the right readers whenever given the opportunity. Sadly, though, the opportunity has not come up as often as I would like. By the time most kids are ready to read a 320 page book, they are diving into the mythologically infused worlds of Rick Riordan and magically rich worlds of Harry Potter and don't want to slow down for the story of a boy and his best friend, a very talented beetle (not a roach) and a mystery centered around a theft that could rock the art world. Happily, with the release of The Masterpiece Adventures, Book 1: The Miniature World of Marvin and James,  Broach and Murphy have teamed up again to revisit James, Marvin and the Pompaday apartment and open this world up to emerging readers in what I hope will be a very long series of chapter books! This new series also fits nicely into the newly created label, Bridge Chapter Books, books specially designed for newly independent readers who are ready to move past leveled readers but not quite ready for traditional chapter books.

When we first see our old friends James and Marvin in The Masterpiece Adventures, Book 1: The Miniature World of Marvin and James, there is some excitement and tension in the air. James is going on vacation with his mother and baby brother and Mr. Pompaday is staying home for the week. As he helps James (by dipping his arms in ink and ticking off items on his list of things to pack) Marvin is already thinking about missing James and begins to worry that he might make new friends and leave him behind. Too worried to create drawings in the special place in their home inside the walls that his family set up for him, Marvin resorts to hanging out with his annoying cousin Elaine.

Elaine convinces Marvin to visit this great new place to play she has discovered in Mr. Pompaday's study - a place the beetles rarely visit because there are never food crumbs there. The cousins have fun at first - until Mr. Pompaday returns and traps them! While trapped, Marvin hears a phone call that makes him even more worried about James's friendship. I don't want to give away too much by revealing the fun but dangerous play place and the danger the beetles find themselves in, but the illustration should clue you in. After a narrow escape, the focus of the story returns to the friendship of Marvin and James, who brings back a truly special - and perfect - gift for Marvin that, besides being beautiful, will also allow him to safely hide in James's room without being seen!

Elise Broach does a wonderful job zooming in on the characters and aspects of her middle grade novel and presenting them in a way that is intriguing and appealing to emerging readers with a plot that is perfectly suited to the new format. The same can be said for Kelly Murphy's (always) superb illustrations! You can read an excerpt of The Masterpiece Adventures, Book 1: The Miniature World of Marvin and James here to get an idea for the complexity level of the story and text. It's not quite the same without Murphy's illustrations, but it will give you a good idea of the reading level, which I think is comparable to that of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel in terms of the number of words per page, illustrations on every page and the size of the font.

Source: Read in a bookstore...

Don't miss these other fantastic books by Elise Broach!

 one of the best picture books of 2008, and all time, really...

a fantastic and rare mystery for middle schools, and one that involves Shakespeare!

And don't miss the Superstition Mountain Trilogy, of which the first two books have been published:

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