With overtones of Chasing Vermeer and The Borrowers , this inventive mystery involves two families that inhabit the same Manhattan apartment: the Pompadays—a slick, materialistic couple, their infant son and thoughtful James, from the wife’s previous marriage—and a family of beetles, who live behind the kitchen sink and watch sympathetically as James’s charms go unappreciated. Careful though the beetles are to stay hidden, boy beetle Marvin crosses the line, tempted by a pen-and-ink set James receives for his 11th birthday. Marvin draws an intricate picture and then identifies himself to a delighted James as the artist. Before James can hide Marvin’s picture, Mrs. Pompaday loudly proclaims her son’s talent and even James’s laid-back artist dad compares the work with the drawings of Albrecht Dürer. A trip to a Dürer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art follows, James stowing Marvin in a pocket; before long a curator is asking James to forge a Dürer miniature of Fortitude as part of an elaborate plan to catch an art thief (can a tiny virtue defeat big lies?).
Broach (Shakespeare’s Secret ) packs this fast-moving story with perennially seductive themes: hidden lives and secret friendships, miniature worlds lost to disbelievers. Philosophy pokes through, as does art appreciation (one curator loves Dürer for “his faith that beauty reveals itself, layer upon layer, in the smallest moments”), but never at the expense of plot. In her remarkable ability to join detail with action, Broach is joined by Murphy (Hush, Little Dragon ), who animates the writing with an abundance of b&w drawings. Loosely implying rather than imitating the Old Masters they reference, the finely hatched drawings depict the settings realistically and the characters, especially the beetles, with joyful comic license. This smart marriage of style and content bridges the gap between the contemporary beat of the illustrations and Renaissance art. Broach and Kelly show readers something new, and, as Marvin says, “When you [see] different parts of the world, you [see] different parts of yourself.” Ages 8–13. (Sept.)