A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Soon after moving to a small town in the Florida panhandle, Amadeo meets some intriguing characters. There's schoolmate William, who "had a self-assurance that inspired awe or fear or both." And there's his neighbor, Mrs. Zender: "Amadeo had never seen anyone dressed like that except when he was in an audience."
Mrs. Zender, about to move into a retirement community, has hired William's mother, an estate liquidator. Amadeo, fascinated by both of them, and hoping one day to make an important discovery, volunteers to help with sorting through the mansion. Meanwhile, his godfather, Peter, a museum curator, is preparing for an exhibition of art considered degenerate by the Nazis. This gives Amadeo the background to recognize a mystery both artistic and historical among the fragments of Mrs. Zender's strange life.
Is it any good?
The story is gorgeous and fascinating, but subtle. E.L. Konigsburg is not one to spell everything out for her readers, preferring instead to leave arch and tantalizing hints so that they can figure things out for themselves. All the classic Konigsburg themes are here: precociously gifted children, mystery, art history, a brilliantly flamboyant and cantankerous old woman, and deep friendship.
This is not for everyone, or even for most. Konigsburg expects her experienced readers to be equally clever as her gifted characters, to be comfortable with ambiguity and sophisticated vocabulary (or at least willing to look things up), and to be willing to think. If that describes your child, he or she may love this. If it doesn't, but you wish it did, a better place to start would be the author's more accessible From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the general historical background, and Hitler's specific views of art. Why would controlling art have been so important to a dictator like Hitler? Why would others risk their lives for it? What could make a painting so important? Also, the author is sometimes very subtle, and even gifted readers may need some help sorting out the story.