Posted by: Lizzie Ross | April 8, 2011

The Borrowers meet Don Marquis’ Archie

Masterpiece (2008), Elise Broach (illus. Kelly Murphy), 288 pp.


It’s a bit strange to read about “beetles” living under the sink of a NYC apartment, but I suspect Broach’s editors wouldn’t approve “cockroaches”. Beetles are cute and innocuous; cockroaches are disgusting and creepy. People tell ladybugs to fly away home, but no one is so kind to any members of the Blattidae family.

But Marvin, the insect hero of this story (there’s a human hero as well), is never disgusting or creepy. He is considerate, loyal, and artistically inclined. His human friend, James, is considerate and loyal, but not artistically inclined.

And that’s where the problem for our two heroes lies.

Marvin draws a miniature masterpiece for James’ eleventh birthday and then, through some complications, ends up having to forge a Dürer drawing to foil some art thieves. An art historian from the Metropolitan Museum of Art thinks James is responsible for the drawing, and James’ father (a painter) is thrilled to think his son has such talent.

How will James and Marvin thwart the thieves? What will happen when the humans discover who the real artist is? And will Marvin be able to survive all the dangers of a human world (brooms, stiletto heels, rolled up magazines)?

We get a glimpse into the miniature world of Marvin and his family (including a venturesome aunt with wanderlust who uses an empty teabag to parachute from the apartment, never to be seen again), so appealing to fans of Mary Norton’s Borrowers series. We get a glimpse into the world of museums and art theft, drawing parallels to E L Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And the most famous cockroach of literature, Don Marquis’ Archie of Archie and Mehitabel — his ghost is watching Marvin’s every move. Archie could type; Marvin can draw. Marvin must be a descendant of that clever Archie, who spent his nights diving onto a keyboard, letter by letter, to compose his poems.

Marvin’s lucky with his art — all he has to do is dip a leg into a jar of ink. No dazed heads for him.

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