Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Secret of the Key"

Marianne Malone is the mother of three grown children, a former art teacher, cofounder of the Campus School Middle School for Girls in Urbana, Illinois and popular speaker in schools.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Secret of the Key, the fourth book in the Sixty-Eight Rooms series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You know,” Ruthie began while Jack unlocked the building’s door, “I wasn’t really sure it was a good idea to bring things back from the past.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t really explain it. But somehow it seemed like we were sneaking around the rules of the magic.”

Jack shrugged as they got on the elevator. “So you don’t think rules are made to be broken?”

“All I know is that when I got stuck in the eighteenth century this morning, I didn’t like it. We shouldn’t assume that everything will turn out okay if we don’t respect the magic.”

“You’re probably right. Especially since we have no idea how we ended up in 1939 New York today!”

Ruthie felt her taut nerves turn like a rubber band of a toy plane. “You don’t think,” she began, an idea forming as she spoke, “that we were – I don’t know – meant to go back to the World’s Fair? You know, so you could save Billy?”

Jack looked at her. “Anything’s possible.” He slid the elevator gate to the side and opened the door. “Hello!” Jack hollered into the spacious loft.

“We’re back here,” his mom called from her studio.
Whew! I was relieved when I opened to page 69. I think it passes the “test” with flying colors. A reader would learn vital elements of the story here; that the book centers on two characters and that they go on a magical time-traveling adventure.

When you write middle grade fiction, you have to keep the pace going at a pretty fast clip; and even in a transition scene like this, the story must always be propelled forward. This moment synopsizes some of what has happened and drops clues to what is about to happen. The main characters, Ruthie and Jack, are the only two in the scene, (until his mom calls at the end of the page) and their personalities are clear: Ruthie, the more cautious worrier, and Jack, the confident rule-breaker. We learn of visits to the eighteenth century, 1939 New York and the World’s Fair. Time travel danger is mentioned, as well as saving someone named Billy. Tantalizing to a ten year old, I hope.

Here’s what you don’t learn on page 69:

The series is set in the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, which are sixty-eight replicas of period rooms from the United States, Europe, and Asia, spanning the 16th to the 20th century, all done in one-twelve scale. Every detail is astoundingly perfect. They were created by a woman named Narcissa Thorne in the 1930s and 40s, and have been installed in the museum since the 1950s. They are the most visited work of art in the museum, and I have loved and been fascinated by them since I was a small child. My main characters - Ruthie and Jack - are sixth graders and best friends, who find a magic key that enables them to shrink, sneak into the rooms, and discover that the rooms are time portals to the past. This is the kind of book I wanted to read as a ten year old growing up in suburban Chicago.

Now I’m curious to check the first three books – The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Stealing Magic, and The Pirate’s Coin - and see if they pass the Page 69 Test!
Visit Marianne Malone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue