A mom of a good friend of my oldest daughter contacted me at the beginning of the summer and asked if we might be interested in doing a book club with the girls this summer. I wholeheartedly replied YES! And it turns out her younger daughter (the same age as my younger daughter was participating as well). At first, I was thinking the books we picked would be books our incoming third graders would read themselves. But once she sent the book choices to me, it was apparent the books would be above level and we would read aloud to them. This actually worked to our advantage because the younger girls (incoming first graders) would hear the story as well and could participate easily. The first book we read was ELLA ENCHANTED (I will fully review this book in a separate post). And the second book we read was The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.
Having the museum background that I have, and having visited the Art Institute of Chicago probably close to 20 times in my life, I suggested this book for the girls to read. Mostly, because I was DYING to read it! I believe the first time I visited the Art Institute I was probably about 12 or so--about the main character's age--and I remember LOVING the Thorne Rooms. And ironically, I don't remember the last time I looked at them when I visited the museum.
In the story, two sixth graders, Ruthie and Jack visit the Art Institute on a field trip and happen to meet a nice museum guard while visiting Gallery 11, the Thorne rooms. The Thorne rooms are 68 rooms created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne between 1932 and 1940. Ruthie is fascinated by the rooms and wishes she could shrink down and visit them personally. Not long after she thinks this, she and Jack find a mysterious key laying on the floor of a corridor while the guard is giving them a tour. She magically shrinks down and is able to enter the rooms! This begins a grand adventure where Ruthie and Jack visit pre-revolutionary France and Topsfield, Massachusetts during the Salem Witch trials. They are able to meet real characters from history on their journey and discover part of the truth behind the key and its magical tie to the Thorne rooms.
This was an absolutely FANTASTIC read for both my first and third graders. They were completely engaged the entire story. They wanted to keep reading to hear more. We got MINIATURE ROOMS: THE THORNE ROOMS OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO by Fannia Weingartner from the library. That way when Ruthie and Jack visited various rooms we could look through the library book and see exactly what they were talking about. Now, I'm sure you can google images of the rooms as well, but there is something about NOT using a computer to see them that appeals to me.
All the girls in the book club as well as the moms LOVED THE SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS. It created great discussion about foreshadowing and character development. Also, history, art and museums. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! And although it is very nicely wrapped up in the end, there are several things unanswered. And in this case, it is fabulous that there are more answers to be found because the author turned this into a series! We can't wait to read STEALING MAGIC, the second book in the series.
Anyone who loved the Magic Tree house books and the way they tie in history in fiction will love to read this as an older child. And I guarantee you will be planning a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the rooms in person! We're heading there over Christmas break this year!
Source Disclosure: We purchased this book for our personal library.