In a recent conversation with one of my parent volunteers the topic of the Thorne Rooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago came up. It seems that on a recent trip to Chicago she had taken her girls to visit the rooms and then discovered a book that takes place in the room. The book was The Sixty Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone and I immediately went to my computer and reserved it at the "big" library as we call it. I was not disappointed.
Two kids who attend an exclusive private school in Chicago go on a field trip to the Art Institute and after finishing the required portion of the field trip, they find themselves in the Thorne Rooms exhibit. The main character, Ruthie, is completely taken in by the rooms and finds herself wishing she could actually walk through them, lay in the fancy princess beds and touch the tiny artifacts. Her friend Jack is not quite so taken in by the rooms and wants to leave quickly, but changes his mind quickly when they talk a guard, Mr. Bell, into letting see behind the rooms. While in the halls behind the rooms, Jack finds a mysterious looking key and takes it with him.
By now the kids are completely fascinated by the rooms and have questions about the key that Jack found. They also discover that the guard, is a famous photographer that dropped out of the art scene many years earlier because a portfolio of very personal photos went missing under mysterious circumstances. When the kids return to the institute with the key, they discover it's magic. When Ruthie holds it, she shrinks to the same scale as the rooms and is actually able to enter them and experience their magic first hand. This is where the real fun begins.
The kids plan a secret overnight at the museum to explore as many of the rooms as they can. They discover magical things, like Ruthie is the only one that can make the key work, but everything she is touching will also shrink. When they leave a room through the doors with scenery behind them, they actually enter the time period of the room and can interact with people who live there, but none of the created room is visible or real to the people they interact with, Jack and Ruthie disappear to them when they re-enter the room.
And they discover some mysterious stuff, like a modern day pencil in one of the rooms from the 1600s and a pink backpack in a cupboard in one of the rooms. Clues that lead them to believe that they aren't the first to experience the Thorne Rooms first hand.
The Sixty Eight Rooms is a quick, fun, entertaining fantasy read. Kids who like The Indian in The Cupboard or The Castle in the Attic will like this updated shrinking adventure/mystery. The cast of characters is interesting from Ruthie and Jack to the eccentric antiques dealer Mrs. McVittie.
I plan on sharing the book with all third through fifth graders along with a copy of the Art Institute of Chicago catalogue on the rooms that plays such an important role in the book.
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