Monday, October 21, 2013
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MISTER MAX--THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by Cynthia Voigt
What It's About (via Goodreads): Max Starling's theatrical father likes to say that at twelve a boy is independent. He also likes to boast (about his acting skills, his wife's acting skills, a fortune only his family knows is metaphorical), but more than anything he likes to have adventures. Max Starling's equally theatrical mother is not a boaster but she enjoys a good adventure as much as her husband. When these two disappear, what can sort-of-theatrical Max and his not-at-all theatrical grandmother do? They have to wait to find out something, anything, and to worry, and, in Max's case, to figure out how to earn a living at the same time as he maintains his independence.
Opening Lines: "William Starling carried the packet back into the dining room, where his wife and son were seated. In those days, most families did their most ambitious cooking for the midday dinner, but the Starlings were theatrical, and you cannot give a good Sunday matinee on a full stomach."
What I Liked: Well, first of all, I am a theatre buff--so anything about acting is going to whet my whistle. I'm also a fan of a good mystery, and this book--the first of a planned trilogy by Cynthia Voigt--has mysteries in spades.
The first mystery is why Max's parents have disappeared, and where they have gone to. Max, fortunately, has a great "Grammie" who is nothing if not resourceful and calm. Plus she's a librarian! (I love her already.) She allows Max to live in his home (right next to hers, but still...) while they try to figure things out. Max shows great resourcefulness in becoming a "Solutioneer," and earns his keep my solving such things as finding missing dogs and missing spoons, which lead to the reuniting of a pair of lovers who have been the victims of a huge and painful misunderstanding.
There are a galaxy of creepy characters: the repugnant Baroness Barthold, and the scheming charlatan, Madame Olenka. I also liked the setting (the made-up city of Queensbridge, which has a bit of a European flair to it) as well as the time period (dates never given, but feels like the early years of the 20th century.)
And I loved Max's stretching himself. Unlike his parents, he is not an actor, but on his own he becomes a master of disguise, using characters from the plays his parents put on at their theater. ("Max, in the costume of one of the unsuccessful suitors from Adorable Arabella, was not surprised by the bad manners of the old woman..." and "Max, in the suit his father had worn to play Banker Hermann in the Wordly Way and with a smaller pillow than the one he'd worn for Inspector D0ddle..."
I have a suspicion that this would be a good classroom read aloud for grades 5 and above--because of all the characters and the shenanigans. I'm looking forward to Book 2: Mister Max: The Book of Secrets, coming in 2014.
About the Author (from the flap copy): Cynthia Voigt is the author of many books for young readers. her accolades include a Newbery Medal for Dicey's Song (Book 2 in the Tillerman cycle), a Newbery Honor for A Solitary Blue (Book 3 in the Tillerman cycle), and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults. She is also the author of Homecoming (Book1 of the Tillerman cycle), the Kingdom series, he Bad Girls series, and Young Fredle, among others. WEBSITE