Great Illustrated Books


By Elise Broach, Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Henry Holt and Co. , 2008
Pages : 304
Suggested Ages: 9-12
ISBN: 0805082700

Marvin, a resourceful and talented beetle with a shiny black shell, lives with his parents in a damp cupboard below the kitchen sink of a New York City apartment. While Marvin doesn't much care for the human owner, sharp-tongued Mrs. Pompaday, a high-powered real estate agent, he does like her quiet, kind son, James. Marvin has been trying to come up with a perfect gift for the boy's eleventh birthday. He spies an open bottle of ink-a present from James's father, Karl, an artist-on James's desk, dips his two front legs in the ink pooled in the bottle cap and begins drawing a meticulous nightscape for James on the art paper there. When James discovers it, he is awed.

Marvin's parents and relatives are aghast at his new friend, warning him, "Humans can't be trusted." Indeed, James feels he has no choice but take credit for the remarkable drawing, which his dad thinks is as detailed as a painting by Albrecht Dürer, the German Renaissance artist. Karl takes James (with Marvin hiding in his pocket) to see a drawing exhibit of the Old Masters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including a very special piece by Dürer called "Fortitude." While this is a story of inter-species friendship, it's also a tribute to the allure of art. In addition, it is a crackling mystery. There's been an art heist of three Dürer drawings, and "Fortitude" could be next. Marvin and James are drawn into the curator's plan to thwart the thief.

To see Dürer's works, including his self-portraits, go to and you'll find scores of interesting links. Perhaps your young artists will want to test their talents with pen and ink or to copy a Dürer sketch.

You'll also want to introduce other memorable novels involving the Met, including E. L. Konigsburg's Newbery Award classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Balliett, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. Scholastic, 2004.

Banks, Lynne Reid. Harry the Poisonous Centipede: A Story to Make You Squirm. Morrow, 1997.

Broach, Elise. Shakespeare's Secret. Henry Holt, 2005.

Dahl, Roald. James and the Giant Peach. Knopf, 1962.

Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. HarperCollins, 1988.

Florian, Douglas. Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings. Harcourt, 1998.

James, Mary. Shoebag. Scholastic, 1990.

Konigsburg, E. L. From the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Atheneum, 1967.

Richardson, Joy. Inside the Museum: A Children's Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Abrams, 1993.

Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. Miramax/Hyperion, 2005.

Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. Farrar, 1960.

Shipton, Paul. Bug Muldoon: The Garden of Fear. Viking, 2001.

White, E. B. Charlotte's Web. HarperCollins, 1952.

Weitzman, Jacqueline Preiss. You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum. Dial, 1998.

Critics have said

Broach's projection of beetle life, complete with field trips to the family's solarium and complex uses of human discards for furniture and meals, is in the best tradition of Mary Norton's The Borrowers and similar classic looks at miniature life. Murphy's illustrations add perspective and humor, supporting the detailed narrative. A masterpiece of storytelling.
School Library Journal