I picked this one up a long time ago, in a favorite Chicago bookstore of mine. I tend not to read as many younger young adult books as I used to. But as soon as I saw what this book was about (my favorite exhibit in Chicago’s Art Institute –The Thorne Rooms), there was no way I could not purchase this.
The book has sort of been lost in my To-Read piles for some time. But, I have a manager at my bookstore who could not stop talking about this book when its sequel just came out (in January). He reminded me of how awesome the concept of this story was. So, now of course I need to go buy the sequel…
My favorite museum is The Art Institute in Chicago. I’ve been to all the science and art museums of NYC, D.C., and even London. But, my museum here in Chicago just has all of these memories for me. I used to go there with this summer Creative Writing program I took when I was 14. I had my favorite benches where I’d love to sit and write poetry in my journals. I have paintings I always have to go back to, each time I’m around the French Impressionists. And most of all, I remember the Thorne Rooms. I can direct anyone who asks how to get to them the quickest way possible. I also think I knew of each room Ruthie described; I could picture them because I have been to them so many times. And like Ruthie, I even had a book at one point that described to me in detail the story behind each room.
To learn that someone wrote about children who could shrink to pocket-size and travel the rooms I used to imagine playing in, just made me ecstatic! And frankly I have no idea why it took me so long pick this book up because not only was the concept amazing, but the story, the characters, and the magic were all amazing too!
It’s about Ruthie and Jack, two very real main characters. They go to the Art Institute on a school field trip and they fall in love with the Thorne Rooms (sixty-eight minature rooms styled to look like the rooms of specific time periods). The details of the rooms go as far as having actual miniature paintings of the time period done. Each piece of silverware in the kitchen rooms and each lighting fixtures in the bedrooms are all perfectly researched to fit with the time periods they belong in.
Jack is good at talking people into doing things and he’s also good at finding things. So with a little convincing of a security guard, he’s allowed to go into the area behind the miniature rooms, and see what the rooms look like from a different angle. And in the process, he finds a very important key. When he shows Ruthie the key, and she touches it, Ruthie feels warmth emanating from it and she shrinks down in size.
Jack and Ruthie are able to do what pretty much every person who ever sees the Thorne Rooms wishes they could do; travel among the rooms. Ruthie is more scientific than Jack and with her sort of logical way of thinking, they research the key and experiment with all that it does. They also find out all they can about the museum, so that they can spend extra time there. They make it so they can even spend the night in the rooms.
But, it turns out the rooms are so much more than mini pieces of history. The rooms actually lead out into history. The children leave the room that just predates the French Revolution and step into France and talk with people from that time period; they even make friends with a girl who manages to leave France for London before the revolution can begin because of their warning.
They meet children outside Salem Massachusetts around the time of the Salem witch trials. And they slowly put together the clues left behind by Mrs. Throne and even Christina of Milan. The book is loaded with history, magic, mystery, and even a little suspense. The children deal with things all shrinking children in books past have to deal with (like giant insects), yet also there’s so many new things like figuring out how to get down from one display and into another in a center island. There’s some amazing problem solving, some very quick thinking, great costumes, and of course all the normal stuff too like family money problems and sisters who take too long in the bathroom.
I just wish the book was bigger! I want to see more rooms, more history, more magic! I want the magic key the kids have, too! And really, I stopped reading this, and it felt like I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again for the first time. It has that wonderful children’s magical world thing going for it and I don’t even feel comparing it to Narnia is that big of a leap. I give it a 10/10, and I’m so buying the sequel!