Works of Art
I've always been a big art fan, so I love when I come across a children's novel that incorporates artwork, artists, or museums in one way or another. The following titles have so much to offer - in addition to their gripping storylines, these books introduce readers to various artists, specific paintings, and styles and movements throughout art history. I hope this list will encourage you to learn even more about the topic at hand, and perhaps inspire future trips to museums near and far!
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
Thirteen-year-old Arthur is having a difficult time coping with the recent death of his father. When he sees the neighborhood "Junk Man" wearing his dad's old hat, he loses control of his emotions and hurls a brick at him. Thankfully, James Hampton (the Junk Man's real name) survives, but Arthur's careless actions result in some serious consequences. At his trial, however, Mr. Hampton convinces the judge to dole out an unusual punishment for Arthur's probation: he must spend 180 hours helping Mr. Hampton with his work. The Seventh Most Important Thing is a fictional portrayal of the life of folk artist James Hampton, whose work is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum here in Washington, DC.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg
Claudia Kinkaid is tired of living at home with her parents, so she hatches a plan for her and her brother Jamie to run away to the most beautiful place she can imagine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two make themselves at home in the galleries - sleeping in an antique bed, bathing in the fountain, and hiding their belongings just enough to sneak by. A popular, yet mysterious, new addition to the collection (a statue of an angel rumored to be the work of Michelangelo) piques their interest and the siblings begin their own research to help determine if it really was created by the famous Italian Renaissance sculptor. Their investigation ultimately leads them to an intriguing encounter with the woman who originally sold the statue to the museum, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
"Mom says that our Seurat poster reminds her to look at the big picture. Like when it hurts to think about selling the house, she tells herself how that bad feeling is just one dot in the giant Seurat painting of our lives."
Georges (the 's' is silent, after Georges Seurat) has a lot going on in his life. His family had to sell their house; he often faces bullying and loneliness at school; his dad recently lost his job; and his mother, a nurse, is spending more and more time at the hospital working double shifts. The day that Georges and his family move into a new apartment building, he finds a note in the basement about a spy club meeting. At his dad's suggestion, Georges attends the meeting, where he first encounters his new neighbor and soon-to-be friend, Safer. Safer is convinced that another tenant in the building, a man he calls Mr. X, is up to no good, and he persuades Georges to help him with spying. Meanwhile, Georges works to make sense of his life both at home and at school.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Classmates Calder and Petra admire their teacher, Ms. Hussey, for her understanding nature and innovative approach to education. Ms. Hussey encourages her students to explore a variety of different topics, which leads Calder and Petra to discover the artwork of Johannes Vermeer. Shortly after they learn that Vermeer's A Lady Writing will soon be on view at the Chicago Institute of Art, they find out that the painting has been stolen in transit. In an effort to solve the mystery of who took the painting, they must first piece together informational tidbits and curious events they encounter together. This book is a great one for mystery lovers and puzzle/problem solvers. It's also part of a series, so if you enjoy this one, be sure to check out The Wright 3, The Calder Game, and Pieces and Players!
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Theodora Tenpenny (Theo for short) lives with her mother in an old house in Greenwich Village, NY. Following her grandfather Jack's death, Theo searches their house top to bottom, trying to decipher the meaning behind his final words to her: "It's under the egg... Look under the egg... Before it's too late." In the process, she makes a shocking discovery, and when Theo meets a girl named Bodhi at a local diner, she can't help but tell her all the details of her current situation. The two become fast friends, and together they embark on a journey to solve this art-related mystery once and for all. Readers will be eager to get some answers - and, thanks to Laura Marx Fitzgerald's academic background, they'll also learn a lot about art and history from reading this novel.