James is going to the beach for a week. His best friend Marvin, a beetle, is very sad and worried. What if James doesn't like him anymore when he comes back? What if he meets new friends? James reassures him the best he can, but Marvin is feeling quite miserable after his friend leaves. His mother tells him not to let himself get bored and suggests he play with his cousin Elaine. They are quickly not bored when they get trapped in a strange, giant, and very dangerous place! Will Marvin and Elaine escape? Will James still be his best friend when he returns? Finally, Marvin has an idea to let James know how much he misses him. When James returns, Marvin gives him his masterpiece and they've both learned that "You can only be missed when someone goes away!"
Kelly Murphy's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this simple but heartfelt story. The sepia hues, ranging into black and white, amplify Broach's lovely text and show the small world of the house from a beetle's viewpoint. The pencil sharpener becomes a terrifying and massive monster, and James' is a friendly but sometimes remote creature. Marvin's masterpiece is, of course, the masterpiece of the series; simple brushstrokes and tiny details that capture the essence of the beach and Marvin's loneliness without his friend.
The book is just over 100 pages with copious illustrations on each page. The font is clear and bold and a large size that's suited to readers just starting on chapters. Broach's text has the shorter sentences and sometimes choppy feel of an easy reader, but she manages to make the story flow within the confines of the format.
Verdict: This is lovely and beautifully done but...honestly, nothing much really happens. I read it, I can see teachers assigning it, I can see some kids enjoying it, but it's not going to have the audience that a more action-packed or humorous beginning chapter book will have. It also felt very confusing not to know who the characters were - as if the reader was dropped into the middle of the story. This is understandable, since the characters' backstory is apparently told in the longer novel but a child who is reading beginning chapters is unlikely to have read the longer novel and a child who's read the novel, unless they are a major fan, isn't likely to go back and read the spin-off. An additional purchase.
ISBN: 9780805091908; Published 2014 by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company; Borrowed from another library in my consortium