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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Classroom Connections
Author E. L. Konigsburg was on to something when she created From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, first published in 1967. This Newbery Award–winning book gave us the memorable, multitalented siblings Claudia and Jamie; a captivating New York setting, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and an intriguing mystery concerning the provenance of a statue, Angel. Claudia and Jamie were not traditional-style detectives, but they were smart, dedicated researchers (even without the Internet!) who took great satisfaction in unraveling this compelling puzzle. Along the way, they slept in historic beds, bathed in fountains, and, ultimately, taught us all a lot about Michelangelo.
Since then, many authors have penned art-themed mysteries for kids—notable examples being Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (2004), Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Framed (2006), Elise Broach’s Masterpiece (2008), and Susan Runholt’s Mystery of the Third Lucretia (2008). The recent art-themed mysteries introduced below include tales of gifted sleuths, neighborhood detectives, museum adventurers, globe-trotting private eyes, and even a few fantasy heroes. Enjoy!
New York City Gumshoes
The Harlem Charade
. By Natasha Tarpley. 2017. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545783873). Gr. 4–7.
After Elvin’s grandfather is mysteriously attacked, he joins forces with Alex and Jin to find the perpetrators. The racially diverse trio encounters an ambitious Harlem politician who wants to turn the neighborhood into a theme park, and uncovers some missing paintings long assumed destroyed. Brimming with local color, the book also includes an author’s note that clarifies the real places featured in the story.
Madhattan Mystery. By John J. Bonk. 2012. Walker, $16.99 (9780802723499). Gr. 5–8.
Thirteen-year-old Lexi and her younger brother Kevin arrive in New York City just as Cleopatra’s jewels are stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After Lexi overhears the thieves discussing the crime, the siblings and new friend Kim Ling Levine decide to recover the jewels on their own, leading to madcap adventures all over Manhattan.
Under the Egg. By Laura Marx Fitzgerald. 2014. Dial, $16.99 (9780803740013). Gr. 4–7.
Thirteen-year-old Theodora Tenpenny’s grandfather’s dying words, “It’s under the egg,” lead her to discover a painting underneath a painting, which may have been created by the Renaissance master Raphael. In the ensuing adventure, Theo discovers information about Raphael and his art, uncovers secrets about her grandfather, and learns about European art confiscated by the Nazis during WWII.
The Case of the Feathered Mask. By Holly Webb. Illus. by Marion Lindsay. 2016. HMH, $15.99 (9780544619937). Gr. 2–4.
In this fourth book in the Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins series, 12-year-old Victorian housemaid Maisie investigates the theft of a valuable Amazonian mask that was to be donated to the British Museum. She collects evidence and follows clues straight to the thief—a young child whose family created the mask. Subplots concerning cultural sensitivity and repatriation to the community of origin are a plus.
The Curse of the Pharaoh. By Steve Stevenson. Illus. by Stefano Turconi. 2013. Grosset & Dunlap, $5.99 (9780448462172). Gr. 3–5.
Twelve-year-old Londoner Agatha—along with her butler Chandler, cousin Dash, and cat Watson—travels to Egypt to recover a missing artifact in this series opener. Full of clever gadgets, carefully placed clues, and quirky details, this Italian import is perfect for graduates of the Cam Jansen series.
London Art Chase. By Natalie Grant. Illus. by Cathi Mingus. 2016. Zonderkidz, $8.99 (9780310752653). Gr. 3–5.
Maddie and her sisters travel with their parents to London (Mom is a Christian music recording artist), where the girls and their nanny take in the sights, including what Maddie thinks is a robbery at the National Gallery. Guided by prayer and Mom’s advice, Maddie’s first investigation leads to a few dead ends, much mayhem, and, eventually, the thief.
Manhunt. By Kate Messner. 2014. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545419772). Gr. 4–7.
While his parents are preoccupied with a new baby, Henry travels to Paris with Aunt Lucinda on a mission for the Silver Jaguar Society, a group dedicated to rescuing stolen art, in this third series installment. After several society members are kidnapped, Henry must try to rescue them, even if it means offering a purloined Mona Lisa as ransom.
The Case of the Stolen Sculpture. By Steve Brezenoff. Illus. by Lisa K. Weber. 2015. Capstone/Stone Arch, $25.32 (9781434296863). Gr. 3–5.
When the Statue of Gudea disappears from the Capitol City Art Museum, 13-year-old Clementine and her friends are on the case, hoping to recover the statue before museum administrators spend all the insurance money. This features a culturally diverse cast, and other art-themed titles in the series include The Case of the Portrait Vandal (2015) and The Case of the Counterfeit Painting (2016).
Framed! By James Ponti. 2016. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481436304). Gr. 4–7.
Florian and best friend Margaret use his T.O.A.S.T. strategy (Theory of All Small Things) to notice the details others miss in order to solve the theft of four paintings from Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. Along the way, he is hired by the FBI, kidnapped by a Romanian crime lord, and finishes his homework!
Mystery on Museum Mile. By Marcia Wells. Illus. by Marcos Calo. 2014. HMH, $16.99 (9780544238336). Gr. 4–7.
After family finances threaten his continued attendance at private school, Edmund jumps at the chance to work with the NYPD to solve a case featuring a master art thief. Using his photographic memory and his ability to create precise police sketches, African American Edmund (aka Eddie Red) cracks the case of some threatened Picassos. Other art-based mysteries in the Eddie Red Undercover series include Mystery in Mayan Mexico (2015) and Doom at Grant’s Tomb (2016).
Pieces and Players. By Blue Balliett. 2015. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545299909). Gr. 4–7.
Calder, Petra, and Tommy from the Chasing Vermeer series join up with Zoomy (from The Danger Box, 2010) and Early (from Hold Fast, 2013) to help solve the mystery of 13 valuable pieces of art that have been stolen from the Farmer Museum. Clues are revealed at a leisurely pace, leaving plenty of opportunities to appreciate these diverse kids’ unique talents and personalities and admire the Chicago art scene.
The Van Gogh Deception. By Deron Hicks. 2017. HMH, $16.99 (9780544759275). Gr. 5–8.
A nameless, amnesiac boy is found loitering in Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, and as he struggles to remember his name and recent personal history, he uncovers a plot to sell a forged van Gogh to the museum. High-tech gadgets and high-energy chases distinguish this suspenseful whodunit.
The Gallery. By Laura Marx Fitzgerald. 2016. Dial, $16.99 (9780525428657). Gr. 4–7.
In 1928, 12-year-old Martha takes a job as a maid in the Sewell household and discovers that the owner’s reclusive wife is being held under lock and key on the mansion’s top floor. Unable to communicate through speaking or writing, the invalided Rose reveals her story through a series of great art pieces, which she sends downstairs to the gallery.
The Mastermind Plot. By Angie Frazier. 2012. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545208642). Gr. 4–7.
In 1904, 11-year-old would-be sleuth Suzanna Snow travels to Boston in hopes of working with her uncle, a famous detective who seems to detest her. Zanna’s assistance in solving a case of art theft helps her to hone her investigative skills and to finally understand Uncle Bruce’s aversion in this sequel to The Midnight Tunnel (2011).
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking. By Erin Dionne. 2013. Dial, $16.99 (9780803738713). Gr. 5–8.
Thirteen-year-old Moxie is stalked by a mysterious woman who threatens to reveal Moxie’s grandfather’s participation in the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, unless Moxie can get Grumps (who now suffers from Alzheimer’s) to reveal the stolen art’s whereabouts. A mathematical genius, Moxie uses her talent for geometric proofs to guide her deductive reasoning, while her friend Ollie employs his geocaching skills.
The Sweetest Heist in History. By Octavia Spencer. 2015. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (9781442476844). Gr. 5–7.
Randi Rhodes and cohorts Dario Cruz and Pudge Taylor return in this second volume, using their ninja skills to expose the theft of some priceless Fabergé eggs on display at the Brooklyn Museum. As well, Randi uncovers some secrets about her recently deceased mother that help her in the grieving process. Includes several appended ninja activities.
The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie. By Kirsty Murray. 2014. 216p. IPG/Allen & Unwin, $9.99 (9781743317020). Gr. 5–8.
While staying with Aunty Big in the Australian outback, Lucy discovers that she can enter the seasonal murals on her aunt’s dining room wall, where she meets relatives from her past. The mystery here is understanding the past in order to confront the future, all facilitated by the magical art.
Joplin, Wishing. By Diane Stanley. 2017. Harper, $16.99 (9780062423702). Gr. 4–6.
Eleven-year-old Joplin chooses a memento from her late grandfather, a tin containing the broken pieces of a valuable Delftware platter. Later, after Joplin wishes for a friend, the girl on the platter comes to life, compelled by an ancient curse to grant the platter owner’s every wish. Magic and danger combine here as Joplin endeavors to break the curse and return Sophie to her proper place and time.
The Shadow Lantern. By Teresa Flavin. 2014. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763664367). Gr. 5–7.
Contemporary teens Sunni and Blaise return in this third series installment to Scotland’s Blackhope Tower, where they are pulled back in time through a magic lantern to the dangerous world created by Renaissance artist and sorcerer Fausto Corvo. The teens battle old enemies and a new ghost in their efforts to protect Corvo’s secrets and discover the fate of his three magical paintings.
Focus on STEAM
At first glance, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics seem to have little crossover with art-themed mysteries. But on closer inspection, STEAM techniques play an enormous role in the preservation, authentication, and identification of fine arts. The following activities and resources demonstrate STEAM connections in art-themed mysteries.
Theo and Bodhi use X-rays and paint chemistry to authenticate the Raphael masterpiece in Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg (2014); and in James Ponti’s Framed! (2016), the FBI proves that Woman with a Parasol is a fake because the paint contains strontium, a chemical only in existence since 1945. Peruse Anna Nilsen’s Art Auction Mystery (2005) or her earlier Art Fraud Detective (2000), both of which allow readers to test their observational skills in spotting art forgeries.
In Pieces and Players (2015), Blue Balliett stresses the importance of faces in art, and part of this mystery revolves around two characters that look alike. Find out more about how facial recognition software is being used today by law enforcement and social media in this article. How does this kind of technology infringe on individual privacy?
Some of the budding detectives cited here make their own spy equipment. In Octavia Butler’s The Sweetest Heist in History (2015), Randi Rhodes uses mixing bowls placed on top of floor vents to amplify the voices of the thieves living in the apartment below her. Experiment with a vent and bowls. What material type (aluminum, plastic, glass, crockery) conducts sound the best? What shape works best? How does a large funnel work?
In Natasha Tarpley’s The Harlem Charade (2017), Alex, Jin, and Elvin investigate some murals located in Harlem Hospital. Read more about the real murals, originally painted in the 1930s as part of the federal Works Progress Administration program, in this article.
In Marcia Wells’ Doom at Grant’s Tomb (2016), art thief Lars Heinrich uses secret codes to contact young sleuth Eddie Red. Learn more about cryptography at the end of this book (p.185–88), or from titles such as Paul B. Janeczko’s Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing (2004) and Elizabeth Singer Hunt’s The Secret Agent Training Manual (2017).
Kay Weisman, a former school librarian, reviews for Booklist and works as a youth services librarian at West Vancouver (BC) Memorial Library.
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