Marianne Malone, author of the children’s book The Sixty-Eight Rooms (new Random House from 2010), describes herself as not growing up being a reader or wanting to be a writer. In fact, from what I gather from her website (www.mariannemalone.com) she spent a good portion of her life as a middle school art teacher and she is an artist who loves to paint. However, growing up and living in Illinois, she enjoyed going to the Art Institute of Chicago and this is where she fell in love with the Thorne Rooms. These rooms started her mind percolating over the course of many years an adventure surrounding them.
If you don’t know what the Thorne Rooms are, they are a collection of 68 minature rooms (like dollhouse rooms) given to the Institute by a Mrs. James (Narcissa) Ward Thorne in the early part of probably the 1940s. Mrs. Thorne traveled the world and was a collector of minatures. She collected so many of the minatures that she had craftsman assist her in turning them into the various rooms from different time periods in England, America, France…and she used her minatures to create interior design themes, from the 13 th century to about the 1930s, that could be used to educate others about interior design of various eras. Of course, many children visitors over the years become entranced by the rooms and their imaginations run wild with ideas. The author Marianne Malone, of course, was one of those children. To view some photography of The Thorne Rooms, go here to the Art Institute of Chicago’s website page of the Thorne Rooms: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/thorne. Last Spring, the Huffington Post had an article about the minature rooms and Malone’s book. If interested, go here to view the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/07/the-art-institute-of-chic_n_528739.html
Malone’s book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, is a children’s novel full of imagination and magic surrounding themes of life based on two main characters, Ruthie and Jack. These best friends go on a class field trip and fall in love with the possibilities of the Thorne Rooms. Getting a back corridor glance, and finding a gorgeous vintage key, leads them to an adventure into history as well the power that sometimes lies behind the simple act of just believing. These sixth graders fall in love with the Rooms and Ruthie wishes so badly to have a look inside that when she holds the key, it warms in her hand and she is instantly made minature herself! Eventually Jack is also, if he holds on to Ruthie, and they go exploring the Rooms. As they are in the rooms, they walk out the front doors and are catapulted directly into different time periods such as France right before the French Revolution and Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. Actually getting to talk to other kids in that time period, and possibly change the outcome of their lives, is touched on. I really wish I could have read even more on the rooms and the time periods they enter. Eventually a piece of each of these children they meet is acutally found in the rooms and they uncover that other children, even possibly Mrs. Thorne who createdthe Rooms, have visited in the same way and they feel a bond to these others. The mystery is uncovered through the book about how the Rooms came to be magical in the first place, through an important historical figure. I won’t give the mystery away here, but I do believe I would have developed that more and let it grow to the end. The suspense would have been intriguing, though Ruthie throughout the book certainly does not have any patience. This may be a mirror of the author’s personality as a child. I’d love to ask her!
The character development of all side characters, several of the parents as well as the little old lady antique dealer who plays a very important part in the end of the book, are very well done. However, some of the other details such as fighting the mega-cockroach and some of the parts about getting from room to room and up and down into the Rooms could have been left out. As an adult, they bored me. Being a child at heart, a history buff, and sucker for imaginative and magical stories involving doors and keys, I wanted to hear more about the magic and I wanted them to explore various parts of history longer and more in depth.
I did LOVE the art element in it, beyond the Institute, as Jack’s mom is a struggling artist and the museum caretaker of the Rooms, a faded photographer. I probably love this because I love art and also am a photographer. My love for art museums and history both caught my attention to this book. I could imagine all the little art pieces decorating the minature rooms. I would love to see The Thorne Rooms one day and experience the magic myself.
I sense that this is not the end of adventures for Malone. The end of the book certainly did entertain the fact that a vintage purse she is given from the antique shop owner might be another magical object with another story. I certainly hope so. (In fact, in a recent e-mail from Malone, she does tell me that they will be another book). I do love Malone’s passion for “old” things and what magic they might possess. Though I do wish that the character’s adventures in The Thorne Rooms not be quite done yet. It for around age 10, fourth grade level, depending where your child’s reading level is. I know I would have loved this book when I was 10. As adults we may look too much into plot structure and want more detail, when for a child it could be more than can be handled. Therefore for me, it is hard to give an accurate review for a child. I’ll have my children read it next and see what they say.
This book had intrigued me back in 2010, as did walking through the Wardrobe in Narnia, Alice shrinking in Wonderland, and the minatures coming alive in Indian in the Cupboard when I was a child, but I didn’t realize until I read it how all these books lend to the idea I have for my own children’s book which I’ve detailed before in this blog. The idea of a vintage key, and historical doors, leading to somewhere else is certainly a story told before and certainly a global plot. But I think it never gets old. We all wish sometimes to walk into another place and time totally different from ours. Even as an adult, I still share these childhood fantasies and imaginative thoughts. I can’t wait to see where my key and door take me in my book also.
Thanks Marianne Malone for bring The Thorne Rooms to life and for opening up my eyes to this amazing feature of the museum. I certainly will want to visit if I do ever get to Chicago!