Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Newly available in stores, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone will delight children of all ages who have a particular soft-spot for the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. The Thorne Rooms are a collection of miniature room settings in historic period styles and are of exquisite "almost eerily realistic" design. In this story, young Ruthie and Jack discover that they can shrink themselves down to the rooms' scale, sneak inside the closed museum and explore the rooms' secrets.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to see the actual rooms will be able to relate to the young protagonists on their adventure. Those less fortunate, however, might have a hard time. Author Malone describes the rooms in lovely detail, but her descriptions pale to viewing the rooms themselves. You really have to see them to believe them!

That is why this work would have been more successful as a picture book. Oh, there are a few well-executed, dream-like illustrations by artist Greg Call. But when Malone writes things such as "Finally she arrived at room E12, an English Drawing Room from the year 1800." (these sort of lines run copiously throughout the book), I have a hard time believing a child is going to know what Malone is talking about... Drawing Room? 1800? E12? --Huh?

As I happen to have a copy of the Thorne Rooms museum catalog, I was able to reference each of the numbered rooms the characters visited. (The catalog is an almost must-have companion piece to this book).

The Sixty-Eight Rooms was an amusing afternoon diversion for this ardent fan of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Devotes of the Thorne Rooms will undoubtedly agree.