Margin Notes: Under the Egg

Under the Egg

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Chasing Vermeer in this clever middle grade debut

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book and the fun characters in it. I think it's a nice mystery, with a heavy dose of art, socio economic differences, a lovely neighborhood, and WWII. I think it's appropriate for middle grade readers who have some understanding of WWII.

Some of my favorite kids books have children living in a world with no adults making it on their own. Kids can be resourceful, friendly, worried, decision-makers, and freeing them from the world of adults lets them do that, and this book does so nicely.

Theo (Theodora) lives with her grandfather and extremely eccentric mother in a stately house in NYC, but they don't have much money. They have lived in the house their whole lives and they have a garden, chickens, and it's a struggle. Their house is shabby and ramshackle and Theo knows how to fix things and make something of nothing. She dresses unconventionally, doesn't have a ton of friends at school, and is a but of a misfit. We meet her right as her grandfather is dying, and he gives her a secret message that she tries to figure out.

That secret message leads to a mystery that involves so many people in the neighborhood--the man who sells nuts on the street, the librarian at the NYPL, her Uncle Lydon at the Met, a local priest, an old army buddy of Theo's grandfather, and her new buddy, a girl who moves in down the street. This girl is the daughter of celebrities but because Theo doesn't have a phone or the internet or a TV, she has no idea, so the celebrity daughter makes a new friend, too.

Through their adventures we learn about art history, WWII POW camps and the Monuments Men, and we search for the answer to Theo's grandfather's cryptic message.

I loved the juxtaposition of the celebrity family and the Tenpenny family. It shed light on how differences can be a wonderful thing and how friends can compliment each other while not making each other feel bad about differences.

The characters were round, fun, and believable. There was just enough larger-than-life character to the people we meet in the book to make them memorable. The plot was great and deals with real problems--doing the good thing when it's hard to do, handling stressful situations, being a good friend.

I loved this book and highly recommend it!

Caveat: there is a bit of WWII stuff in here--a very light tough on POW/Concentration camps, and Jewish families and what they endured, war injuries, etc. But nothing too shocking--a good entry point to discuss it with your children.

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