One morning a couple of weeks ago my family and I were rushing out the door for a vacation. Everyone but my 9-year-old daughter had packed a book for the long plane ride (Me: Too High to Fail; Carla: Gone Girl; Sarina: The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette).
I hurriedly skimmed our bookshelves to find something Jane could read. I came across a book I don't remember buying, called The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone. I pulled it off the shelf and learned that it was a kids' novel based on the Thorne Miniature Rooms.
I was vaguely familiar with the Thorne Rooms. In the 1930s a Chicagoan named Mrs. James Ward Thorne designed 68 miniature rooms depicting the interiors of houses in Europe, Japan, and the US from the 13th century to the 1930s. They are 1/12 scale (1 inch = 1 foot). I've never seen the rooms in person (they are housed at the Art Institute of Chicago), but I've seen photos and the detail is remarkable.
On the plane, my daughter didn't want to read the book. That's because she had my iPad loaded with the first two seasons of The Powerpuff Girls, which she had been too young to enjoy when they initially aired. I can't blame her -- it's one of the best cartoons ever and I ended up watching a bunch of them with her.
When we arrived at our hotel, she resisted reading the book because she had not yet run out of Powerpuff Girl episodes. I told her she could not watch any more episodes until she had read at least 15 pages of the book. She agree to the deal, provided I read the book aloud to her. That was fine by me, because I was intrigued by the Thorne Rooms.
The Sixty-Eight Rooms is about two middle school students who take a class field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. After viewing the African art, the teacher tells them they can to check out the Thorne Rooms. While there, the boy (Jack) finds a sparkly key and shows it to his friend, a girl named Ruthie. Later that week the kids go back to the museum by themselves and Ruthie learns that when she touches the key she shrinks to 1/12th her size, enabling her to explore the Thorne Rooms from the inside. Once she gets into the rooms, she starts finding clues that she's not the first one to have entered the rooms using the key's magic.
By the time I got to page 15 Jane begged me to keep going, and so I did. For the next several days she read the book on her own and didn't watch any Powerpuff Girl episodes. I have not had a chance to finish it, but Jane assures me it's amazing. I just bought the sequel, called Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure.
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Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.