James is having a really terrible 11th birthday. His mom has invited kids he doesn’t even know to his birthday party. All James really wants is for his father to come and finally, at the end, he does – bringing with him a pen and ink drawing set as a gift.
Observing all of this from the safety of a very tiny hiding place is Marvin, a beetle that lives in the kitchen cupboard. Marvin has watched the awful birthday party and the sad look on James’ face. Marvin is determined to give James a really good birthday present, and so he does. Late that night, he uses the pen and ink set to draw James a miniature picture, a perfect miniature picture of the scene outside James’s bedroom window. The picture is perfect down to the last tiny detail – it’s a masterpiece.
James thinks the picture is brilliant and is even happier discovering that he has a beetle-sized friend. James’s happiness turns to dismay, however, when his mother assumes James drew the picture. Things get really complicated when James is recruited to forge a Drurer drawing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art so that art thieves will be tricked into stealing a fake. The problem – James can’t draw! With Marvin safely tucked into his pocket, the two new friends set out for a real adventure at the Museum of Art. The boy and the beetle happen to see things no one else seems to notice. Things even get dangerous because the art theives are closer than anyone thinks. Author: Elise Broach
If you like The Mouse and the Motorcycle or Stuart Little – this is another great story between a human/animal pair, this time, a boy and a bug. And even though beetles have a lot of legs and scurry and are generally not liked, Marvin is a great character. He’s a funny, lovable beetle-friend for James. And he’s great at observation – he has to be if he doesn’t want stepped on!
Here are some great art mysteries too – try these:
Dit Sims lives in tiny Moundville, Alabama in 1917. He’s got nine brothers and sisters and his Dad routinely forgets his name. It’s summer, it’s hot and Dit’s best friend is away for the summer. When he finds out that a new postmaster is coming to town, Dit hopes the new postmaster, Mr. Walker, has a son close to his age that will want to go fishing and play baseball.
The postmaster comes, and Dit is disappointed to learn that he doesn’t bring a son, he brings prissy, brainiac Emma who always has her nose in a book and doesn’t know one thing about baseball. Dit’s town is disappointed to learn that the Walkers are African-American.
Dit’s family welcomes the Walkers and the two families slowly build a relationaship sharing chores and helping out when family members are sick. Dit and Emma start building a friendship too. Dit teaches Emma how to throw and hit a baseball. Emma helps Dit with math and introduces him to exciting adventure books like Treasure Island. Slowly, over the summer, the two kids become best friends.
Some people in Dit’s town don’t welcome the Walkers, especially the town sheriff. Some people object to Dit and Emma’s friendship, even object to the Walkers living in Moundville at all. When the two kids witness a racially motivated shooting and realize their friend, the town’s black barber, is unjustly blamed and sentenced to hang, they secretly come up with a daring plan to save him.
This story brings the injustice and horrors of racial bigotry to life. It’s a story about friendship between people and how that friendship is stronger than the forces around it that try to tear it apart. Two thumbs up historical fiction. Author: Kristin Levine
We first met Lucky in The Higher Power of Lucky, the book that won the Newbery Medal in 2007. Lucky still lives smack in the middle of the desert in tiny Hard Pan, population: 43. She’s got her best friend Lincoln, her new mom Bridgitte and all the other people in Hard Pan that love her…all 42 of them. Still, Lucky’s feeling restless and bored. It’s almost her eleventh birthday, a day Lucky counts on to, well, to change her luck.
What Lucky finds out is that you make your own luck, and you don’t do it by betraying your best friend or ignoring the good advice of the grown-ups that care about you. Just when she’s feeling the most unlucky, Lucky celebrates an eleventh birthday that is sure to turn her luck around.
The kids at school think Emma-Jean is weird. Emma Jean thinks the kids at school are weird. The other kids are overly emotional and unpredictable and a lot of the time, what they do just doesn’t make sense to Emma-Jean! Sometimes, the kids are mean to each other on purpose. Sometimes, the kids don’t tell the truth about what they think or what they feel. For a practical mind like Emma-Jean, Middle Schoolers are just plain crazy.
At school Emma-Jean studies the kids from afar. She doesn’t really have any friends herself, until the day she comes across a classmate crying in the bathroom and decides to take action against the craziness. Emma-Jean doesn’t really understand the events that have lead up to the tears, but fixing the problem seems easy enough. Beware when things seem easy! Rather than keeping herself detached from the kids at school, Emma-Jean’s actions instead put her right smack in the middle of their emotional mess. The kids have a lot to learn about friendship, including Emma-Jean. Author: Lauren Tarshis
Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf is a different sort of book. It’s a scrapbook full of stuff that 7th grader Ginny Davis collects all year: diary entries, post-it notes, instant messages, e-mails, report cards, candy wrappers, sales receipts and more. The scrapbook pages are a collage of all of this. As you turn the pages you read and look at all of this stuff…and it’s the stuff that tells Ginny’s story. There are things to read, like diary entries and e-mails, but the rest of the things on the pages are more like clues to look at and the clues really do help you understand who Ginny is and what is going on with her. In a lot of ways Ginny is typical. She wants her school picture to look good and she wants friends, clothes and maybe even a boyfriend. She also has problems just like everybody. She’s having trouble getting used to a new step-dad and her older brother is making bad choices that cause problems for the whole family. All of this happy, sad, funny stuff in Ginny’s life you figure out by looking at the pages in this scrapbook. After reading this book, try making a scrapbook page or a collage of yourself. There is more than one way to make a self-portrait – as you can tell by reading Ginny’s story. Author: Jennifer L. Holm