It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!
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.
Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.
One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!
Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!