The Painting That Wasn’t There is the first of the Field Trip Mysteries by Steve Brezenhoff. If you are (or have) a young reader that is interested in mysteries this is a nice series with which to start him or her.
The plot of The Painting That Wasn’t There centers around its 6th grade characters realizing a painting in the Museum is a forgery, solving the crime and apprehending the culprit during the course of their museum field trip. It is narrated by James (Gum) Shoo. He is accompanied by his friends Egg (Edward G. Garrison), Cat (Catalina) and Sam (Samantha). The fact that each character’s name requires another name in parentheses to clarify it is one of the problems with the book. Although the story uses art history content I was disappointed in the author’s approach to its inclusion. Having specialized in Art History and taught it in elementary schools in connection with both the French Language and children’s literature I believe there are much more exciting ways in which to impart/teach Art History to young readers.
There are too many inane details thrown at the reader right away that are never followed up. Thus, what could have become reasons to care about the story instead remain superficial to both the characters and the plot. With little to no character development I cannot recommend this Field Trip Mystery as a read-aloud or independent read.
That said, although I did not find the plot’s details interesting, I can see where a young reader with an interest in (and novice at) solving mysteries might find it rewarding to follow the clues and solve the mystery. The mystery itself is plotted clearly, providing young readers with clues, suspect lists and a methodical approach to the solution. I could see the story being used as part of a classroom lesson on deductive reasoning, or some similar problem-solving strategy for a 2nd or 3rd grade class.
Due to the methodical plotting and problem-solving approach, however, one or more of the other Field Trip Mysteries may be worth a try if you know a young reader interested in mysteries. I have not read any of the other books in the series and it is always possible that the characters are developed further in these stories.