A Palette of Middle-Grade Art Mysteries

BookendsLynn and Cindy:  What is it about art and mystery? We don’t know, but we love it when books have some of both! For those of you who agree, here are some terrific new or upcoming middle-grade books that do just that.


The Gallery (June 2016) by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. It’s the Roaring Twenties. Some people are living the high life, and some aren’t. Twelve-year-old Martha O’Doyle has narrowly escaped being expelled from school, and her mother punishes her by forcing her into service at the huge Madison Avenue mansion the elder O’Doyle manages for newspaper tycoon J. Archer Sewell. Martha’s mother sets her daughter to work as a kitchen maid in the hope that Martha will focus on school. While Martha is exhausted by the grueling work, she is awed by the splendid house—nothing can keep her imagination or curiosity down for long. And there is much to be curious about. Mr. Sewell’s famous (some might say notorious) wife, Rose, is locked in her room, along with a fabulous collection of paintings. Martha quickly becomes convinced that Rose is a prisoner, and that the changing artwork holds clues to her real circumstances. A richly depicted place and time adds to the fun of watching spunky Martha solve a truly intriguing mystery.


Next up is Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery (Aug. 2016), an art-filled caper set in the National Gallery by screenwriter James Ponti. Florian Bates is very smart and VERY observant seventh grader. He invented the theory of T.O.A.S.T. (theory of all small things), which involves adding up a bunch of little details to reveal a larger truth. Florian teaches his theory to his new friend Margaret, and the two practice everywhere they go. Florian’s theory pays off when he helps the FBI investigate a theft at the National Gallery. Not only does he figure out what was stolen, but where the paintings are stashed. The FBI are so impressed that they give Florian the status of a special consultant and the nickname Young ShMystery Montherlock. But can they keep Florian safe? The premise is fun, as are the demonstrations of T.O.A.S.T. We’re eager for the next one in this new series.

Behind the Canvas by Alexander VanceThe final art mystery in our roundup features Claudia, a lonely girl with some artistic ability. She gets quite a scare when she sees a moving boy in a painting at the art museum, then again in her room at home. She learns his name, Pim, and forges a tentative friendship with him. Claudia agrees to venture through the canvas of a famous painting into a mysterious world composed of the landscapes and subjects of every painting created in the past 500 years. In Behind the Canvas (2016), author Alexander Vance humorously integrates the subjects of many famous paintings into an adventurous, mysterious, and dangerous journey to rescue the boy trapped behind the canvas. Footnotes from a fictional art history tome, Dr. Buckhardt’s Art History for the Enthusiast and the Ignorant, provide facts and sarcastic commentary on major artists and movements. For instance, about John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, this tidbit is reported:

“This was no filed guide but a serious volume—the type of heavy illustrated book you get your father for his birthday for him to display in the living room. While it had little impact on the art world, it did invent the never-ending demand for coffee table books.”

Readers who want to see some of the paintings featured in the book and read the excerpts from Dr. Buckhardt’s book should look here.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "A Palette of Middle-Grade Art Mysteries"

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  1. The first book this list conjured to mind was Chasing Vermeer. I remember reading–and loving!–that book, so I’ll have to place these art mysteries on my TBR list. The Gallery looks especially interesting, and the setting so captivating! Thanks for the suggestions!

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