The Miniature World of Marvin and James (The Masterpiece Adventures, Book One)
By Elise Broach
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Look out – sports reference. My two favorites are soccer and basketball. One time, a friend who played the former but not the latter asked me what was up with all the plays they run in basketball. To a soccer player, the thought of lots of scripted plays is kind of ridiculous – there are definitely some loose guidelines in soccer, but there’s a lot of room to get creative – it’s a big field. I remembered this recently as I considered the difficulty beginning chapter books face. Similar to basketball, they have a small court. Not much room to move in terms of vocabulary, sentence length, page count. Because of this, I think, authors are forced to “call more plays” – set pieces that are proven to work within these confines. In the first book in the new Masterpiece Adventures series, Elise Broach does some wonderfully creative play calling. The result is a book that stands out.
James Pompaday is packing his bags for a weeklong beach vacation with his mom and brother. His friend Marvin, a beetle, will not be joining in the fun. Stuck at home for seven days without his best friend, Marvin must resort to playing with his sometimes annoying cousin Elaine. But she has an adventure up her sleeve. Before long, the two are bellyflopping into the shavings inside the electric pencil sharpener. The fun ends quickly, however, when the pair are trapped. Just like that, adventure turns to survival.
I bestow upon myself the Obvious Award with the following comment: memorable moments are important in books. How many times do you recall a book you read in the past just by some specific detail? The characters going inside an electric pencil sharpener is that hook for me. Years from now, even with my shoddy memory, when asked about this book I’ll say, after scratching my head with the butt end of a cane, “isn’t that the book where they go into the pencil sharpener?” I predict it will stick with young readers as well.
The illustrations are quiet and effective. Murphy mixes it up, employing spot illustrations, full-page and two-page spreads to help carry the storytelling load. As much as I think the color palette could have benefited from a bit more color, it fits the tone of the story.
It’s a beginning chapter book that doesn’t succumb to the same old same old. And similar to the E.B. White Read Aloud Award winning book (2009’s Masterpiece) upon which this series is based, I’d be willing to bet it will work well with a crowd. An excellent book in a niche that can use it.
Review copy from the publisher.
Also reviewed by books4yourkids.com.