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Book Impression: The Sixty-Eight Rooms

The Sixty-eight Rooms
by: Marianne Malone
published by: Random House
copyright: 2010

Premise (from GoodReads):
Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed in the Children’s Galleries of the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms made in the 1930s by Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Each of the 68 rooms is designed in the style of a different historic period, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. Some might even say, the rooms are magic.

Imagine – what if you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that so that you were small enough to sneak inside and explore the rooms’ secrets? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind?

My Reaction:
I did not grow up in the Midwest, so I had no previous knowledge of the Thorne Rooms. After reading this book, however, I plan to take a trip to Chicago for the expressed purpose of visiting this amazing display.

When I first read the premise, I squealed with delight. I imagined a series of 68 books (similar to The Magic Tree House), each room providing an opportunity for time travel and a different historical adventure for young students. As a reader, I wanted to learn more about the time periods and envision the miniatures come to life. As a writer, I wanted to learn how to weave history with fiction to create an engaging middle grade series. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on both accounts.

I don’t blame the author – I blame myself. I allowed my imagination to run away before I started reading. I set myself up for a story that was not the intent of the author. 

I wanted the story to focus on one room. I wanted an in-depth history lesson and fully developed characters of the past. Instead, the students visit several rooms of different countries and time periods. While this maintains a fast pace, essential for a middle grade audience, there seems to be a disconnect as to why they enter various rooms. I felt rushed, as though it was a race to see as many rooms as possible, rather than a thoughtful purpose for the visit.

In the end, I found the story adequate, although I do not have a desire to read the remaining three books in the series. However… the fact that this is a series indicates there is an audience for The Sixty-Eight Rooms… I am just not that audience.


This post is a part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. If you are interested in reading other MG books, please visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a complete list of this week’s reviews.  I am always on the lookout for other MG historical fiction novels. If you have a favorite you think I would enjoy, please feel free to leave the title in the comment section.


8 Comments

  • Greg Pattridge

    I enjoyed this one, but do agree that maybe more in-depth explorations of the rooms would enrich the plot. It might have had series potential if done this way. Younger readers seem to enjoy this one the way it is though.

  • Kim Aippersbach

    I have seen the Thorne Rooms; they're amazing! What a great setting for a middle-grade adventure!

    I think I might be more of the audience for this book than you, since the thought of an in-depth history lesson makes me yawn (sorry!). Malone's book sounds more like From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler crossed with The Da Vinci Code, and that sounds fun!

  • Joanne R. Fritz

    Funny, I felt the same way about The Sixty-Eight Rooms. The story itself was certainly enjoyable, but I never read any of the sequels. Loved learning about the Thorne Rooms, though (I grew up in the Eastern US and never heard of them before reading this book).

  • Rosi

    I am from the Midwest and had never head of the Thorne Rooms, but will make it a point to see them when I'm there next. I love your idea for a series. You should write it! Thanks for this review. I might check out the book.

  • Molly Totoro

    That is always my dilemma when reviewing MG works, Greg. I read as an adult (and a wannabe author), and not as the target audience. I'm glad the younger ones like it as the premise is wonderful!

  • Molly Totoro

    Great comparison, Kim! I actually picked up the book because of it sounded like "From the Mixed Up Files…" but I hadn't considered the Da Vinci Code aspect 🙂

    And I completely understand your reaction to my story idea. Not everyone is as enamored with detail 🙂

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