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'Under the Egg' by Laura Marx Fitzgerald: Wonderful middle grade mystery

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Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

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"Under the Egg" is a gripping middle grade mystery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. She creates a very unusual protagonist in Theo Tenpenny -- a thirteen-year-old girl who is in charge of her family home while caring for her eccentric (and helpless) mother.

Before her grandfather died, he was able to provide for the three of them -- not lavishly, but enough -- on his salary as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They live in a huge house that was built by an ancestor at the peak of their family's success. Now, they garden in the back and raise chickens for the eggs.

With her grandfather gone, Theo doesn't know how she will continue to keep things going. The jar her grandfather left with money is quickly being depleted in spite of Theo's scavenging, gardening, pickling, and canning. Before his accidental death, he had told her to "look under the egg...there's a letter and a treasure."

Two things happen to change Theo's life. The first is when she accidentally spills some rubbing alcohol on her grandfather's favorite painting of an egg. The top coat of paint rubs off to reveal an entirely different painting underneath -- perhaps an old master. That fits with her grandfather's dying words, "Look under the egg." Now she just has to find the treasure. Is it the painting? Did her grandfather steal it when he worked for the MMA?

Theo also meets a neighbor her age who is the daughter of two famous actors. The daughter is neglected and allowed to do whatever she wants. And Bodhi, Theo's new friend, wants to help Theo with the mystery of the painting. The two girls, from very different backgrounds, become good friends while working to solve the mystery.

Throw in a nut-seller who was a chemist in his native country, a male librarian who is tall, young and hip, a female priest, and the retired curator of the MMA (who suspects the children are hiding a painting -- and he wants it), and you have all the makings of a book that is fun to read and difficult to put down.

Theo is an unusual main character in many ways. She dresses from cast-off clothing she finds in the house. A slip becomes a skirt, and her grandmother's old negligee becomes a sundress. Until the arrival of Bodhi, she has no friends her age, but through her grandfather, she has adult friends who look out for her.

Fitzgerald creates a character who wants to do the right thing and is loyal, honest, and smart. Readers will be rooting for her throughout the story.

Classroom teachers take note: this would be an excellent read aloud for grades four and five. It will get the students interested in art and specifically in the Old Masters. It should be easy to find some of the referenced paintings and artists and show them to the students.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press, for review purposes.

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