Monday, April 28, 2014

MMGM: Masterpiece, by Elise Broach

Many years ago I encountered the cockroach poet Archy, author of Archy and Mehitabel, and the image of a bug jumping from key to key on a typewriter caught on a hook in my imagination and hangs there still. I don't know what it is about artistic insects, but the narrator of Masterpiece joins an illustrious line of literary invertebrates (think of Charlotte's Web) that are irresistible.

Marvin is a beetle who lives under the kitchen sink. We are introduced to him when he rescues Mrs. Pompaday's contact lens from down the bathroom sink drain. (How to make a character instantly lovable! (At least for those of us who have ever worn contacts!)) Of course Mrs. Pompaday doesn't realize her day was saved by a beetle: staying out of humans' sight is the most important beetle rule, and Marvin has a large beetle family to remind him not to do anything to jeopardize his family's comfortable life in the Pompaday's walls.

But then young James Pompaday gets art supplies for his birthday, and Marvin discovers a remarkable, un-beetle-like talent.

This book appeals on so many levels. Like The Borrowers, it plays with the notion of small people living on the scraps of human life. I loved the description of the beetles' food, and their beetle-eye perspective on human activities.

Then there's the art heist story: everyone loves a good art heist, and this one has action and suspense and also manages to introduce readers to Albrecht Durer without ever seeming didactic. I loved the passion for art that comes across in different ways from the different characters.

But perhaps what's best about Masterpiece is the beautiful friendship story. I loved the characters of James and Marvin, and the way they were able to communicate without words and trust each other without reservation.

Kelly Murphy's illustrations were perfect.

Masterpiece is your favourite picnic food: maybe a really good potato salad, or cold roast chicken. Hearty and fun.

Check out Shannon Messenger for more great MMGM reads, every week.


  1. Great premise. I had to giggle at the contact lens aspect. Sounds like a good read for this summer. Thanks for featuring.

  2. Oh, I really liked this one! I love books from a tiny creature's perspective!

  3. Sadly, it's been really hard to get students to read this, although the Broach book about Shakespeare does pretty well. Maybe things with roaches... pretty high ick factor there! (I've been cleaning store rooms at school and communing with fairly large specimens!)

    1. I wouldn't have thought kids would be icked out by bug protagonists. I, however, would be seriously icked out by roaches in store rooms! *shudder* The bugs in this book are beetles--way less icky than roaches (don't know why, but it's true, isn't it?)