Book info

Under The Egg (2014)

Under the Egg (2014)
Rating
4.01 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0803740018 (ISBN13: 9780803740013)
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English
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dial books
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Under The Egg (2014)
Under The Egg (2014)

About book: Let me ask you a question. You seem like an intelligent individual. Have you ever read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? And, if your answer is yes, did you love it? At the very least, do you remember it? I think it fair to say that for significant portions of the population the answer to both these questions would be yes. But before we go any further, consider for a moment precisely WHY you love the book. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s most probable that what you remember from the title was the whole kids-running-away-to-live-in-a-museum aspect. What you might have forgotten was that there was also a mystery at the heart of the book. The mystery had to do with a statue and had a solution that, let’s face it, was a bit contrived for its young audience. If you ever felt that Konigsburg could have done better in the whole solving-an-art-mystery department, allow me to lead you by the elbow over here to where I’m showing off my latest delight Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald marks a strong debut, daring to take the reader from contemporary New York City to WWII and back again without breaking so much as a sweat. It’s gutsy and ambitious by turns, Things could be better. A lot better. When Theodora’s grandfather Jack was alive, the family didn’t have a ton of money but at least they got by pretty well on his salary as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was after Jack died in a freak accident that things took a downward slide. With a mother incapable of dealing with reality (and addicted to pricey tea), Theo knows their money is coming to an end. Soon they won’t have enough to live on. It's when things look particularly dire that Theo accidentally spills rubbing alcohol on one of her grandfather’s favorite paintings. And as strange as it sounds, beneath his plain picture of an egg lies an incredibly old image of Madonna and Child. The more Theo starts to look into the painting and its history, the more determined she is to track down its story. Now with the help of the daughter of a pair of acting celebrities, a punk librarian, an Episcopalian priest, a guy selling nuts on the street, and more, Theo’s about to peel away not just the mystery behind the painting, but also her own grandfather’s role in one of the greatest WWII capers of all time.The crazy thing about the mystery at work here is that Fitzgerald honestly makes you believe that a pair of 12-year-olds, with a whole summer of nothing to do, could indeed successfully identify a Renaissance painting and, with a little research and intelligence, determine its origins. There’s one moment that involves an x-ray machine that strains a bit of credulity, but the strength of the other elements more than make up for it. The professional reviewer at Kirkus also had a problem with a coincidence that arrives at the end of the book like a kind of Deus Ex Machina. Personally, this didn’t disturb me in the least, mostly because Fitzgerald does a pretty dang good job of justifying why it happens. It’s a little pat, but hardly a deal breaker.As for the writing itself, I grew very fond of it. You’d have to have a pretty hardened heart not to enjoy lines like “Mother Nature had draped a wet wool sweater around the city’s shoulders that day.” As a character, Theo’s in a pretty nasty position. As caregiver and pseudo parent to a mother who can’t break out of her own brain, the stakes are fairly high. They’ve been selling this book on the premise that it’s about a loner who finds ways to connect with the characters, oddballs, and generally good people who’ve surrounded her all this time and that she never noticed before. That’s true to a certain extent, but I always found the relationship between Theo and her grandfather Jack to be the most interesting relationship in the book. He may be dead, but his character points are loud and clear, even from beyond the grave.This book also managed to fulfill for me personally a wish I’ve harbored for about 10 years now. In that time I’ve been a children’s librarian and I’ve seen a lot of middle grade novels set in NYC. From time to time these books will mention libraries in the city. If they mention any library in particular, it tends to be the main branch of NYPL. This is understandable, but my first library job was in a branch of NYPL that I still to this day consider the best of them all. Called the Jefferson Market Branch, I served as its children’s librarian for about two years. During that time I became obsessed with the building and yearned to see it mentioned in a book for kids. I came closest when Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller was released, but was thwarted at the last minute when the author, for some ungodly and unknown reason, chose to MAKE UP a branch rather than have her characters walk over to Jefferson Market. Now, in the year 2014, I am happy to report that for the first time in my own memory, the branch has appeared in a book. And not just as a sly mention either. Under the Egg gives Jefferson Market the credit it has been long due. So if I sound a little gushy about this book, you can probably safely assume that my loyalty was, one way or another, kind of compromised along the way.In terms of timing, Under the Egg could not be better situated. In February of this year (2014) our movie theaters will feature the film The Monuments Men with an all-star cast, based on a true bit of little known history. A bit of history that was SO little known, in fact, that I’d never seen it mentioned in a world of children’s books, whether fiction or informational. Now, practically on top of The Monuments Men, we have a title for 9-12 year olds that uses this bit of history as a pivotal plot point. Well timed, Ms. Fitzgerald! It’s difficult to write a tense thriller of a middle grade mystery without a good antagonist. In this book, that part is played by one “Uncle” Lyndon, a man whose greatest crime is his desire to get art into museums. This is a bit of a tough sell for a reader who grew up with Indiana Jones’s cry of “It belongs in a museum!” ringing in her ears throughout her youth. To read this book in the way the author intends, you are put in the position of wondering who should own great art. The book, surprisingly enough, makes the argument that famous works of art can indeed belong to individuals and they can do whatever they want with them. If that person wants to hide the art away from the rest of the world, that is their right. And if that art is taken from that person by force and circumstance allows that the former owner can be tracked down, to procure it for a museum would be an immoral act. This is a bit of a stretch, to be sure. It is, however, excellent fodder for book discussion groups. The Under the Egg mentality versus the Indiana Jones mentality. Who should win?When they tell you that the book is “From the Mixed-Up Files meets Chasing Vermeer” I suggest you not believe them. Yes, there is a famous piece of art and yes there is a mystery, but the mystery in this book is so much stronger than any art-related children’s book mystery I’ve read before that everything else just pales in comparison. If there’s a coincidence or two in this storyline, it has a strong justification beside it. Interesting from start to finish, even when it’s discussing the personal lives of 16th century painters, this won’t make every kid that reads it into an art fanatic, but what it may do is cause a whole bunch of them to start researching the painter Rafael on their own. Uniquely readable, entirely charming, and a pleasure from start to finish. Debuts this good are meant to be discovered.For ages 9-12.

I really enjoyed this thriller story with its background in art history and the current art world. Fitzgerald tipped a hat early on to Salinger by putting her loner protagonist in an old, decaying NYC house (direct reference to Franny and Zooey). I enjoyed how Fitzgerald unfolded the specifics of this special art puzzle. The resolution happened very quickly, and I almost missed it because I was reading that chapter while trying to get kids to brush their teeth before bed, but it was something she had led up to through the whole book. Not a complicated plot, but enough so that it was nice to see her bring all the threads together by the end. Librarians were at first an object of fear, but then emerged to become heroes who were given enough air time to develop a romantic side-narrative. What was most fun was seeing in this book some of the very facts about Raphael that Nancy had been bringing home to me all semester long from her art history class at UNC. This is a good pleasure read for anyone interested in art history. Another interesting thing was seeing the digital divide represented so well. Theo's friend Bodhi is digitized, but Theo is almost a Luddite. This is so true from person to person these days--one person is deeply immersed in technology, and the next one never uses it. The nice moment with this was when Bodhi was reading from a wikipedia page, and Theo was filling in the conversation with details she knew. At first this just seemed like a clever way to do exposition, but then I realized it was a character having a dialog with wikipedia--very current!
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Reviews
Tim Thompson
What a wonderful book! (This is the third time I've started this review, so this one better stick! I loved Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald so much there is NO WAY I can leave it unreviewed.)Under the Egg is a brilliantly crafted and layered mystery, actually, this is the kind of book that almost defies categorization. It is a tale of family history and loyalty, love, friendship, and honor. Under the Egg is also a fast pace art heist caper and a rich adventure set in a lively New York City. All of these descriptors fit Under the Egg, but they are not the only ones that aptly describe this amazing story! Under the Egg also includes details related to WWII and the holocaust. This is the kind of book you will at the very same time want to roar through, yet savor every sentence. Theodora's story is one of discovery and acceptance. Very slowly, Theo lifts away the shrouds surrounding her recently deceased grandfater's past. In the process she uncovers a masterwork of art deftly hidden in her family home in Greenwich Village, NYC. As her family resources dwindle, Theo makes new friends, faces fierce adversity, and discovers new truths about her grandfather and his past. Most of all, Theo discovers new truths about who she is and how to keep her family legacy alive. I've now read over a dozen of the titles from the Maine Student Book Award list for the 2015-2016 school year. Under the Egg is by far my favorite. Read it, read it, READ IT!
Laura
Loved, loved, loved this book. After her grandfather's death Theodora struggles to maintain the family's deteriorating townhouse and care for her needy mother. When an accident causes her to reveal a renaissance masterpiece under one of her grandfather's paintings she is both amazed and worried. She lets go of her isolationism as she realizes she needs help to learn more about the painting and its rightful owner. I think kids will relate to Theodora who is quirky, likable, and smart and will enjoy this blend of mystery and realistic fiction.
Ms. Yingling
When Theo Tenpenny's elderly grandmother is killed by a car in New York City, she is bereft for many reasons. He was not only her link to the outside world, but also the only person supporting her and her (possibly autism spectrum) mother financially, apparently with a veteran's benefit, which is odd because Theo didn't think he served in WWII. Before he died, Jack did say that Theo should look "under the egg" and "for a treasure". In Jack's studio, there has always been a picture of an egg, and when Theo is looking all around it, she manages to spill rubbing alcohol on the painting, which removes a layer of paint to reveal an older painting of a Madonna and child. Theo sets off to investigate the painting with the help of new neighbor Bodhi, being careful because she thinks Jack may have stolen the painting from an art museum where he worked as a guard. With the help of a hipster librarian, Episcopal priest, and various others, Theo uncovers an even bigger mystery, which she ultimately solves so that she and her mother can stay in the family home and not be destitute. Strengths: This had a huge amount of research into several areas, such as the paintings of Raphael, as well as the artwork taken by the Nazis, ala The Monuments Men. Bodhi and Theo work well together, and enlist the support of the right people. There were lots of twists in this that I didn't see coming.Weaknesses: Theo's family circumstances were unnecessarily dire. Her grandfather would have been about 90, so didn't need to be hit by a cab and leave a bloodstain on the pavement, and she could have had a mother who was at least trying to make ends meet. All I could think was "Where are social services?" My biggest problem with this, and the reason I'm not entirely sure I'm going to buy this, is that it is very slow paced. Not a lot of action, and a lot of details about the paintings that are interesting but which make the story drag a bit. Still, a good mystery, so I am debating. I can see this being a very strong Newbery contender because other teachers and librarians really, really like it. I did, too, but the number one complaint about middle grade books from my students is always "Nothing happened!" This almost always means that there was little action.
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