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At the museum

Museums are great places to experience fun, learning, and often even hints of mystery. They spark the imagination and make us question things we have never considered before. As such, they make a great setting for stories that can inspire a love of museums, history, and art. Perhaps because the middle school years often include museum field trips or perhaps simply because this is the perfect age for museums to catch a reader’s imagination, there are many great middle grade books set in museums. This list offers lots of options, particularly for art and history fans.

WonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick
This Schneider Family Book Award winner alternates between two stories set in two different time periods. Ben is a young boy growing up in the 1970’s. As the book opens, he loses his hearing in a lightning strike but nevertheless decides to set off alone for New York City to find his father, eventually ending up at the American Museum of Natural History. Interwoven with Ben’s story is Rose’s story, told entirely through pictures. Rose is growing up Deaf in 1920’s New York City and runs away to the American Museum of Natural History. Both this museum and another play a key role in this unique and engaging story of family and love.

mixedupfilesFrom the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This Newbery Medal-winning classic tells the story of two young children who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Hiding away until the museum closes in order to stay there at night and exploring with tour groups during the day, they manage to discover a mystery related to the latest exhibit. Their investigation takes them from the museum to the Connecticut home of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an art collector with information that allows them to complete their search. This book has inspired a love of art, mysteries, and museums in generations of young readers and it is sure to continue to do so for years to come.

Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Theodora Tenpenny is an expert at finding things. For the most part, she finds free stuff on the streets of New York City, from books to a snowboard. But now she has even more pressure on her than usual — taking care of her mother without her grandfather’s help after his sudden death. Her grandfather left her with some perplexing words about a hidden treasure just before he died. When Theodora thinks she has discovered a valuable painting underneath a painting done by her grandfather, all her problems as well as the mystery surrounding her grandfather could be solved, until she starts to worry that her grandfather may have stolen it. Readers will love seeing New York City through her eyes as she tries to solve all of the mysteries her grandfather has left for her.

Moxie Rule BreakingMoxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne
Set in Boston, this book uses the real life mystery of the burglary at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as a jumping-off point for a suspenseful mystery that finds Moxie and her best friend Ollie tasked with finding the paintings to save their loved ones. Moxie’s grandfather may or may not have been involved in the robbery, but either way, his former associates in organized crime think that he has the paintings and they want Moxie to get them back. She and Ollie take off on a race through the city to find where the art has been hidden all these years. Whether readers already know about the heist before starting the book or not, they will love the tense race through real-life Boston locales and will definitely end up wanting to go to the museum.

Chasing VermeerChasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett; illustrated by Brett Helquist
Mysterious letters, coded messages, visions of figures from famous artwork, and pentominoes all come together in this mystery about a Vermeer painting stolen en route to the Art Institute of Chicago. When two middle schoolers at the University of Chicago Lab School get caught up in this disappearance, it is up to them to put together coincidences and clues to save both the painting and their teacher. The book also includes additional information on the code that is used throughout the story, which is sure to inspire an interest in cryptography amongst many readers. They will enjoy this tour through art history and Chicago’s Hyde Park and the twists of the plot are sure to keep them guessing until the very end of the book. Chasing Vermeer is the first in a series that introduces readers to other aspects of art history.

sixty-eight roomsThe Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone; illustrated by Greg Call
Also set at the Art Institute of Chicago, this mystery centers around the museum’s sixty-eight Thorne Miniature Rooms that display detailed interiors from various points in history. This book, the first in a series, starts with some children discovering a way to explore these rooms while on a school field trip to the museum. Once they find out that they can enter this world, Ruthie and Jack can’t wait to explore some more, leading them to sneak back into the museum where they get caught up in further adventures. Combining magic and mystery, it will capture the imagination of young readers and is sure to make them want to visit the Thorne Rooms for themselves.

Do you have other favorite books set at museums? Let me know in the comments!

 

Carli Spina About Carli Spina

Carli Spina is a librarian who is currently pursuing a masters in technology, innovation, and education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She can be found on Twitter at @CarliSpina.

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