For Young Readers

Four novels sure to entertain kids.

Reviewed by Mary Quattlebaum
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Masterpiece By Elise Broach. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy | Henry Holt. $16.95. (ages 8 to 12 )

Meet Marvin, a beetle -- and the most creative creepy-crawly since Charlotte, the word-weaving spider. He lives with his family in the tasteful (and sometimes tasty, if you're a beetle) Manhattan apartment inhabited by James, a quiet boy of 11. Marvin discovers his artistic talent one night when he dips into James's pen-and-ink set and creates an exquisite miniature. Even James's artist dad compares it to the best drawings of Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. Since everyone assumes James is responsible, the boy must take credit for his friend's work or expose the true six-legged artist to possible extermination. Soon beetle and boy are swept up in a mystery involving art forgery and theft at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Masterpiece combines the art-heist excitement of Chasing Vermeer with the character depth of animal classics such as Charlotte's Web and The Cricket in Times Square. Author Elise Broach attends lovingly to the tiny details of her fictional world -- cotton-ball beds, peanut-shell swim floats -- which also can be glimpsed in Kelly Murphy's occasional black-and-white illustrations. Families eager for a good read-aloud -- and tweens for a read-alone -- will find much to enjoy. (See p. 12 for a review of the audio book version of Masterpiece.)

Mothstorm By Philip Reeve. Illustrated by David Wyatt. Bloomsbury. $16.99 (ages 9 to 13)

It's hard to prepare for a proper Victorian Christmas in outer space. Art Mumby and his older sister, Myrtle, must contend with decorations that float and a noxious pudding worm, not to mention fierce female lizards, their meek blue menfolk and the giant "moth fleets of a deranged demi-god" who wants to take over the British Empire. What's a plucky lad to do? Why, forego "parlour games and festive indolence," of course, and join forces with Myrtle's beloved, a charming space pirate, to save the universe.

This is the third time Art has saved it, and it's the best rescue yet. Mothstorm works as a stand-alone novel, but readers won't want to miss the sci-fi exuberance of its predecessors, Larklight and Starcross, also set in 1851. Fans of Lemony Snicket's dark wit (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Terry Pratchett's clever plot twists and stylish writing (Nation, the Discworld series) will discover a similar spirit and finesse -- and a new skewed world -- in these books by Philip Reeve.

What I Saw and How I Lied By Judy Blundell. Scholastic 16.99 (ages 14 and up)

Those craving suspense with their holiday bonbons can slip into this year's National Book Award winner. The novel is set in 1947, a time of prosperity for 15-year-old Evie. Her adored stepfather, Joe, has returned from the war to Queens with the means to start a new business. Her beautiful mother no longer has to work. But no one asks where the money has come from or why Joe, after a mysterious phone call, suddenly transports the family to Florida. And why does he rebuff the young ex-GI, Peter Coleridge, who shows up at their Palm Beach hotel? As the weeks pass, Evie finds herself falling for Peter. When he dies in a terrible accident, Evie begins sadly to piece together the answers to those questions, and to ask others: Was Peter's death an accident? Were her parents involved? And who was this young man, exactly? Judy Blundell takes readers into the mind and heart of a teenager hungry for the truth and afraid of what she might find.

Let It Snow Three Holiday Romances By John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. Speak. $9.99 (ages 12 and up)

Take six love-tossed teens, add one blizzard, swap midsummer night for Christmas Eve, and you've got a comedy as delicious as any whipped up by the Bard. Popular YA novelists John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle have each penned one of these three interlocking, first-person stories. Johnson's tale stars Jubilee, a nice girl with a "stripper name" and a "perfect" boyfriend. Green follows with a story about wise-cracking Tobin, who ignores his best friend, a girl nicknamed "the Duke," for a Waffle House full of cheerleaders. And Myracle finishes with lively Addie, who is awash in the aftermath of a recent breakup.

The fun lies in seeing how the main characters of one tale emerge as minor characters in another and how certain motifs -- Jubilee's cell phone, a man dressed in tinfoil, the cheerleaders -- recur in surprising ways. And who needs Shakespearean fairies with all the love-muddling stuff the authors throw in, including a stranded train, a ceramic Santa village and a miniature pet pig? Finally, after a night of mishaps, mistakes, tears and hash browns, the six converge on a small-town Starbucks and . . . all's well that ends well. Nothing heavy here, just a read as frothy and sweet as a gingerbread latte.

Mary Quattlebaum is a children's author who reviews regularly for Book World.

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