There's no other word for it, the story in Masterpiece (2010) is wonderful! I loved every page of this book. You could compare it to The Littles by John Peterson (little people living in walls and helping the people they live with) or Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (a classic with a curious and likeable bug for a main character), but I prefer to keep this book on its own.
Broach’s story is original; a beetle that lives in a Manhattan kitchen find that he has a talent for drawing miniature drawings. James, the boy who lives in that Manhattan apartment, finds a drawing by Marvin and shows it to his parents. His father, an artist, thinks that James drew it and introduces him to a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where James is commissioned to draw more miniature drawings in the vein of Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer to help with an art theft investigation.
I love how Broach works with the theme of friendship. Marvin makes sacrifices for his human friend, James, who seems to appreciate Marvin, but also uses him a little. So, while Marvin is happy to create pictures for James, it raises the question of what people should give up for friendship?
In terms of a book to teach, there’s something for everyone in Masterpiece. History and art for kids who are interested in drawing, thievery and mystery for children who like a problem to solve, and a genuine relationship between the beetle and the boy for kids who love books about unexpected friendships. For me, I liked the beetle character, and the plot development, complete with surprising twists, action, and a dose of art history.
Here are a few ways to incorporate Masterpiece into a late-elementary classroom:
Focus on the theme of friendship: What do you need to have in a friendship? How does friendship involve sacrifice? What does Marvin sacrifice for James? What does James sacrifice for Marvin? What do you think will happen to their friendship next?
Focus on the theme of family: Compare and contrast the two families in the book (the beetles and the humans). What did each family want? How did each family show emotion and affection for each other? Which family would you rather be a part of and why?
Identify the idea of Plot and Subplot: Make a graphic organizer that shows the plot and subplot in this book. Why did the author include a subplot? What did it add to the experience of reading it?
Study foreshadowing and plot twists: Create a detailed graphic organizer of the plot. Highlight parts where there was foreshadowing. Highlight places in the story where you were surprised. How did the author surprise you? Do you think the author added foreshadowing as she wrote or she went back in and added it later? Why?
Focus on Point of View: This book was told from Marvin’s point of view. Why did Broach choose the bug’s point of view? And, how would the story be different if it was told from James’ point of view?