Masterpiece Is As It Says

Alison Morris -- September 2nd, 2008

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!

7 thoughts on “Masterpiece Is As It Says

  1. Tabatha Yeatts

    My 10-year-old son would heartily agree with your Lightning Thief selection. He adores that series, and also the Pendragon series. My 13-year-old daughter loves the Bloody Jack books. She and I both love the Ranger’s Apprentice series.

  2. Julianne Daggett

    I’m not sure if its kid-friendly to ever kid in the country, but “The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt is one of the best books out there for Southern children who are often told in the media and books (including children’s books) that because they’re Southerners they are ‘poor, slow, stupid, and racist’. I’m a Southerner and I felt growing up that I was all these things even though I am middle class, quick witted, was an honors student, and was never racist, being good friends kids of all races including black. Even though “The Underneath” is about dogs, cats, mythical creatures, and a mean old hunter it doesn’t condemn Southern kids, it portrays the American South, and the Southern animals use their smarts to save the day.

  3. Kat Brokaw

    My daughter’s favorite book (series) when she was growing up, that was read so many times we had to buy another copy, that she still reads to this day (and girl is almost 17) is the Patricia Wrede Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The book(s) read like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, enough fun on adult and kid levels for hours of giggles. The protagonist is SUCH a positive character. And the King of Dragons is just adorable! Really truly word of mouth this to as many people as possible. Science Fiction Book Club has an anthology version of this series.

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