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Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Masterpiece Book Poster Image
Brilliant, suspenseful, satisfying art mystery.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Extols the virtues of friendship.


A boy's hand is crushed under a car trunk lid.


Breakfast food, snack, department store, and candy brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there is a scene where a boy gets his hand crushed under a car trunk lid, possibly on purpose, though this is never clear. Otherwise there is little of concern, and some good conversation about friendship, art, and philosophy.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 year old Written byCubFan November 30, 2008

A pretty good book!.....

This book is not for younger kids, that's for sure. I am nine, and when I read this book, it had some confusing parts, and sad parts. But it is an okay boo... Continue reading
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written by[email protected] October 25, 2009

Good for any tween, esp art lovers or underdogs

This is one we read out loud, a ten year old and a 12 year old, who had no interest until we got started. just when you think you are too old to root for a beet... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 14, 2009

A great mystery for kids and people who enjoy art!!!

I simply LOVED this book. I think this is a good book for kids 8 and older to read to themselves or have read to the. I also think that if your kid does NOT lik... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 13, 2011

A good book.

It is a good book, but it is a little bit slow. I like books that have more action in them. Still, for people who like art, like me, or who enjoy mysteries, it... Continue reading

What's the story?

James is a quiet boy living with, and mostly ignored by, his divorced, social-climbing mother and stepfather. Marvin is a beetle living with his supportive, if perhaps overwhelming, family behind the kitchen sink. When James' artist father gives him a pen-and-ink set, Marvin -- who can understand but not speak English -- discovers a talent for art, and makes a tiny, detailed drawing for James, which everyone assumes James did. As they become friends, his drawing brings James to the attention of a curator at the Met, who enlists his aid in catching an art thief -- but James can only do it with Marvin's help.

Is it any good?

In the small subgenre of art mysteries for children, author Elise Borach has produced one of the best yet. Take the miniature world elements of The Borrowers, the art mystery of Chasing Vermeer, and the human-bug friendship of The Cricket in Times Square add in suspense, philosophy, and art history, and you get this exceptionally appealing, satisfying page-turner. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this multifaceted story is the way the interspecies friendship improves and enlarges the lives of both friends, boy and beetle. Marvin expands his horizons and becomes braver and more forceful. James improves his relationship with both of his parents. Though the resolution of the issue of everyone thinking James is an artist seems a little odd, the rest of the book is fast-moving, thought-provoking, and delightful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ideas about art presented here. Why would someone steal art if they can't sell it or show it? What makes a work a masterpiece? What effect does great art have on you? Is that different from the effect it has on others? Are there any artists whose work you love? What appeals to you about it? Young readers may also be interested in learning more about Albrecht Durer -- see the Other Choices section below for places to start.

Book details

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