By: Lisa Railsback
Illustrated by: Sarajo Frieden
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: February 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: May 5, 2010
Noonie Norton is a bright and promising young artist. No, actually she’s brilliant. At least that’s what she will tell you when you read her tale in the delightful young adult novel Noonie’s Masterpiece.
Noonie is obsessed with art and nothing else in the fourth grader’s school career maters much. Math? Boring. English? Boring. But art class? Noonie can’t wait! Miss Lilly, the art teacher, is one of Noonie’s favorite people in the whole world. Well, except for her dad who she misses terribly. He travels so much because of his job, it seems he is never, ever home. In fact, Noonie has to live with her aunt, uncle, and goofy cousin until her dad comes home for good.
When Noonie hears about an upcoming art contest, she’s thrilled. Surely she’ll win the contest since she’s a brilliant artist. Even practically perfect Sue Ann Pringle doesn’t stand a chance against Noonie. And if Noonie wins the contest, she’s convinced that her dad will come home. The young artist has everything figured out until she learns what the subject of the contest is – she must draw her family! Huh? How can she do that? The only family she has at the moment is temporary – aunt, uncle, cousin. Surely she can’t draw them?
When I began Noonie’s Masterpiece, I thought it was going to be a sad story. Noonie tells of her “blue life” and her “blue period” that began when her mother died and her father left his daughter with Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Ralph while he pursued his archeological research. Narrated by Noonie, she is indeed sad at the start of the book. But the young girl is so funny, with such a quirky sense of humor, that the reader is soon laughing along with the young girl. The story, too, is a bit different (in a good way) as it’s told through the ten-year-old’s eyes, eyes that see things in a very unusual way. Noonie sees herself as a bit of an outsider and I suspect many young readers will identify with her.
It was quite refreshing to read a story where family, and the ties they share, is a central and positive theme. When Noonie first described her aunt and uncle, I thought they’d turn out to be like so many evil stepparents in other stories. But instead, they are loving and caring caretakers – Noonie just doesn’t realize it at first.
While Noonie’s Masterpiece is a captivating story, it is the artwork that really make this book stand out. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a young reader’s book so lavishly, and wonderfully, illustrated. Every page has something fun and goofy on it, to mesmerize youngsters and help keep those who may struggle with chapter books interested. Some pages have simple drawings, others change color or font to match Noonie’s mood at that point in the story. It’s a lot of fun to flip the pages to see what the illustrator has to offer.
Quill says: Noonie’s Masterpiece is “practically perfect” in every way.