Synopses & Reviews
"ninety percent of who you are is invisible."
Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something -- a place, a process, even a fossil -- some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with.
William Wilcox seems like an unlikely candidate for friendship: an aloof boy who is all edges and who owns silence the way other people own words. When Amedeo and William find themselves working together on a house sale for Amedeo's eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender, Amedeo has an inkling that both his wishes may come true. For Mrs. Zender's mansion is crammed with memorabilia of her long life, and there is a story to go with every piece. Soon the boys find themselves caught up in one particular story -- a story that links a sketch, a young boy's life, an old man's reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It's a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.
Two-time Newbery winner E. L. Konigsburg spins a magnificent tale of art, discovery, friendship, history, and truth.
"'This complex work has all the trappings of vintage Konigsburg: unusually articulate children considering the adult world and trying to stake their claim on it; an art history related mystery; a headlines-inspired story line; eccentric grown-ups; and, of course, incisive, often brilliant prose. Sad to say, the magic is missing. The action starts off promisingly. Amedeo Kaplan (son of characters met in The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place) has just moved to coastal Florida and made friends with William Wilcox, son of an estate sale manager (introduced in the story collection Throwing Shadows). As the boys help William's mother pack up the palatial home of Amedeo's next-door neighbor, a larger-than-life retired opera singer, Amedeo finds a signed Modigliani drawing. Because Amedeo has just returned from attending an art exhibit curated by another Outcasts alum, Peter Vanderwaal, on the subject of 'degenerate' art (modern art criminalized by the Nazis), Amedeo is primed to uncover the history behind the drawing a dark provenance that links the retired opera singer, the Vanderwaals and the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. While the author's material and style prove as stimulating as ever, her repeated reliance on coincidence weakens the book's impact. Her tried-and-true fans will forgive these contrivances, but newcomers should not start here. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[S]hould appeal to intellectually ambitious young readers who would share Amadeo's delight in showing off his knowledge of the correct way to pronounce the name of the artist Modligliani." Children's Literature
"[Konigsburg] at her best." Horn Book Magazine
"[A] cast of idiosyncratic people and skillfully embedded them in an appealing tale of friendship, loyalty, and mystery." School Library Journal
"Konigsburg writes with a singular intelligence that permeates every page." Booklist
"Ninety percent of who you are is invisible."
Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something a place, a process, even a fossil some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with.
William Wilcox seems like an unlikely candidate for friendship: an aloof boy who is all edges and who owns silence the way other people own words. When Amedeo and William find themselves working together on a house sale for Amedeo's eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender, Amedeo has an inkling that both his wishes may come true. For Mrs. Zender's mansion is crammed with memorabilia of her long life, and there is a story to go with every piece. Soon the boys find themselves caught up in one particular story a story that links a sketch, a young boy's life, an old man's reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It's a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.
Two-time Newbery winner E. L. Konigsburg spins a magnificent tale of art, discovery, friendship, history, and truth.
A two-time Newbery Medalist spins a tale of art, discovery, friendship, history, and truth, in this novel about two boys who find themselves caught up in a story that links a sketch, a young boys life, an old mans reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to Nazi Germany.
About the Author
E. L. Konigsburg received the Newbery Medal for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the same year had a Newbery Honor Book, Jennifer, Hecate, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth. In 1996, she received the Newbery again for The View from Saturday. She has since written a number of very successful books, including, most recently, Silent to the Bone, a NYT bestseller, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and an ALA Notable Book. She has spoken to groups all over the nation, has had her books translated into many languages (including Japanese), and is one of the most important, beloved figures in the world of children's books today. She lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Reading Group Guide
Define the terms "censorship" and "degenerate." Learn about the National Socialist Society for German Culture, and their efforts to censor art they called degenerate. (http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/arts/artdegen.htm).
Amedeo Kaplan is the new kid in town and at school which makes him feel "alone and anonymous." Amedeo meets William Wilcox and observes that he isn't "so much alone as aloof." What is the difference between being alone and aloof? How does being aloof protect one from being alone?
Amedeo Kaplan has a desire to discover something. Why does he think that moving to Florida will cause him to give up his dream? Debate whether Amedeo is blindsided by his discovery at Mrs. Zender's house. How does his discovery contribute to important changes in the lives of each of the characters in the novel?
Explain the difference between a relationship and a friendship. How does Amedeo's business relationship with William Wilcox develop into a friendship? Why might the two boys seem unlikely friends? What does each boy bring to the friendship? At first William appears to be the dominant person in the friendship. At what point does this begin to change? Amedeo says, "I think you always give a part of yourself away when you make a friend." What part of himself does Amedeo give away?
Both Amedeo and William have been lost in adult worlds. How are their adult worlds different? How do their adult worlds complicate their adolescent friendship? Compare Mrs. Zender's childhood to that of Amedeo and William. Debate whether Amedeo recognizes a little of himself in Mrs. Zender. How does this contribute to his eventual affection for her? At what point does Amedeo realize that Mrs. Zender needs and desires his friendship?
Mrs. Zender, an opera singer, played many roles in her short career. She says, "I never felt more like myself than when I was onstage being someone else." How did being onstage make Mrs. Zender anonymous? How do Mrs. Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender compete for center stage in the novel? Discuss which character wins the role.
What does Konigsburg mean when she uses the phrase "turn away anger"? How do Ellen Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender "turn away anger"? Discuss Amedeo's role in helping each of these adult characters deal with their anger.
Explain what Mrs. Zender means when she says to Amedeo, "Ninety percent of who you are is invisible." How does this statement also explain the difference between naked and nude? What part of the ninety percent of Mrs. Zender is revealed by the end of the novel? Explain what the discovery of "The Moon Lady" reveals about Amedeo's character.
Mrs. Vanderwaal says, "I don't think, Mrs. Zender, that you can possibly call Eisenhuth or Zender a hero. And you, Mrs. Zender, do not get to choose." How might Mrs. Zender and Mrs. Vanderwaal's definition of a hero differ? Who is the real hero in the novel? Is there just one?
Peter Vanderwaal includes the following quote by Adolf Hitler on the inside cover of the "Once Forbidden" catalog: "Anybody who paints and sees a sky green and pastures blue ought to be sterilized." Why does Peter Vanderwaal call this quote an epitaph? Discuss the difference between an epitaph and a memorial. How does "The Moon Lady" become a memorial to Pieter Van Der Waal?
Discuss the cunning, kind, shabby, and heroic edge of Mrs. Zender.
READING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM: ACTIVITIES and RESEARCH
Konigsburg uses the following metaphor to convey the character of William Wilcox: "In a school as variegated as an argyle sock, William Wilcox was not part of the pattern." (p. 3) Write a brief character sketch of William Wilcox that supports Konigsburg's metaphor. Then write appropriate metaphors that best describe Amedeo Kaplan, Mrs. Zender, Peter Vanderwaal, Mrs. Vanderwaal, Mrs. Wilcox, and Mrs. Kaplan.
Konigsburg states in the novel, "Friendship is a combination of art and craft." (p. 128) Write a brief essay that describes Amedeo and William's friendship as both art and craft.
When Aida Tull (Mrs. Zender) went away to study opera, the local newspaper referred to her as "our local diva." Write an article titled "Our Local Diva" for the local newspaper that might have appeared at the end of the novel.
Amedeo's father, Jake, told him to look at abstract art like he was "listening to a conversation in a foreign language." (p. 93) Research abstract art and develop a glossary of terms for describing it. Locate a work from Picasso's Blue Period and write a review of it using this newly developed vocabulary.
Peter Vanderwaal is the director of the Sheboygan Art Museum. Find out the difference between a curator and an art director. Locate the best colleges in the nation for preparing for a career as an art administrator. Write a letter for admission to one of these colleges.
Design an illustrated catalog for the "Once Forbidden" exhibit. Locate actual art images on the Internet by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Gustav Klimt, and Georges Braque that might be included in the exhibit. Copy these images into the catalog and write a brief description of each work. Select a favorite work from one of these artists for the cover of the catalog. Peter Vanderwaal uses Picasso's "Harlequin at Rest."
Artists favored by the Third Reich include: Ernst Vollbehr, Arno Breker, Adolph Wissel, Hubert Lanzinger, Albert Janesh, and Josef Thorak. Select one of these artists and write a brief essay that describes their work and why they were approved by Hitler and the Third Reich.
The "Degenerate Art" exhibit that Peter Vanderwaal saw in San Francisco traveled to art museums across the nation. The exhibit raised several important questions: Who gives a government the right to dictate what people are permitted to like? Should taste be a matter for a government to decide? Read about the conflict in our own nation over the National Endowment for the Arts (www.crf-usa.org/bria/bria13_2.html). Stage a class debate regarding the controversy about government funding and the NEA. Should the NEA censor art that the organization funds? Is this government enforced-censorship?
This guide has been provided by Simon and Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Guide prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville.
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