Two years ago I was in Chicago and I sought out The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute because I had heard about the book The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone and was intrigued. It was a really cool exhibit, and finally, I have read the book that inspired my visit!
Ruthie and her friend Jack are visiting the museum with their school and they find a mysterious key. When Ruthie holds it, she's able to shrink down to five inches tall, the perfect height to go into the Thorne Rooms and everything is perfectly sized. The kids figure out how to get Jack to shrink too (the magic seems only to work for girls) and they go exploring! Jack tries on armor and Ruthie is determined to sleep on the satin sheets of the canopy bed in the French Empire bed. Then they are intrigued to discover that the exteriors of the rooms aren't painted dioramas - they're real. They can go out into the era and place of the rooms and they can even find people and talk to them!
Where did this key come from? How does it work? What's in the mysterious French journal they find? And what's the story behind the out-of-place yellow Number 2 pencil Ruthie finds in one of the rooms and a pink plastic barrett in another?
Meanwhile, Jack's mother, an artist, is having financial troubles, and a guard at the museum, a former renowned photographer, has confided to the kids and Jack's mother that he stopped taking photographs when a precious album of his best works disappeared. Naturally, these problems are solved, some perhaps a bit too conveniently. There's also a family friend who runs an antique store who appears conveniently, and Ruthie's big sister is inappropriately lackadaisical about Ruthie's whereabouts, but most children won't pick up on either of those minor flaws. Kids will appreciate the attention to detail in the scenes in the museum when Ruthie and Jack have to navigate problems such as how to get up to the rooms when they're tiny, how to get to the rooms on the other side of the hall, and how to use the bathroom! Kids often obsess over these type of practical, particular details, and Ms. Malone has solved them creatively. There were a few too many coincidences for my taste, but again I don't think middle grade readers will notice those as the story itself is so exciting and intriguing.
The book gives kids a taste of history, hopefully making a couple of historical periods more real and relatable to them. Well-written, interesting, and featuring magic (a perpertual favorite topic among the age group), I think this series will do quite well.