My Macmillan rep, Bob Werner, was completely unguarded in the note he sent to me attached to a galley of Masterpiece by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, September 2008). "Drop everything and read this!" it said. "This is the BEST BOOK EVER!!" I couldn’t follow Bob’s advice to a T, because I was then in the middle of reading The Hunger Games and had other things immediately on tap, but I *did* move Masterpiece up to the almost-top of my to-be-read pile, where (lo and behold) it soon moved into my hands, where I’d actually have liked it to stay a bit longer. I wanted to make this book last, simply because I was enjoying it so much.
After almost ten years as a bookseller there is one quality that I look for in a book above ALL else: kid-friendliness. If a book feels kid-friendly to me as I’m reading it, if I can’t think of a single kid who WOULDN’T enjoy it, then THAT’S a book I can handsell to kids (or their parents) with absolute confidence that they’ll enjoy it and come back looking for more recommendations.
I read novels all the time that score high on the quality of writing scale but less so on the kid-friendly scale — these are the books that tend to get lukewarm receptions from all but the most "serious" of kid readers. This can be frustrating, because sometimes I LOVE those books! After all, they feel wonderfully "adult-friendly." But it’s the kid-friendly books that will eventually begin walking out the door based solely on kids’ word-of-mouth. It’s the kid-friendly books that make up the lion’s share of our backlist sales. Why? Because kids love them. Kids tell their friends and teachers about them. And kids keep reading them. It’s that simple.
The thing that struck me most about Masterpiece is that it’s kid-friendly from start to finish. It features a great, engrossing story — the kind kids dreaming of seeing take shape in their own lives. After all, what kid wouldn’t love to discover that a non-creepy critter (in this case a beetle) living in his own house has extraordinary artistic talents AND dreams of being his best friend? What kid wouldn’t want to solve the mystery of a shocking art theft with the help of this friend/critter?
I think kids are going to LOVE this book, and they’re right to do so: it’s fresh, it’s clever, it’s suspenseful, and it’s just plain fun. Teachers will love it for the insight it provides into the art world (specifically the work of Albrecht Durer). Everyone will be additionally charmed by Kelly Murphy’s wonderful pen-and-ink drawings, which make the perfect accompaniment to the story.
Other books I’ve read that have scored as high on my "kid-friendly" scale as this one include Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Alabama Moon by Watt Key, and Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. I’m pleased to say that my gut reactions of "every kid is going to love this book" came true for them, as I hope it will for this one.
What’s at the top of your "most kid-friendly" list? Do tell, as those are the books we’re ALL forever seeking!