Brilliant, suspenseful, satisfying art mystery.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Extols the virtues of friendship.


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

Not applicable
Not applicable

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

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Elise Broach
Illustrator:Kelly Murphy
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:September 1, 2008
Number of pages:292
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14
Read aloud:9
Read alone:10

This review of Masterpiece was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

External sites

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

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 like mysteries this would not be good for them. It might appeal to boys more then girls as the main characters are both boys. The story also has a bug character so if you do not like bugs you might not like this.
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 book. 10 and up, 3 stars!
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's good. Also the artist is real. I recommend to look up the artist, Albrecht Durer, on the internet.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide