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LOVELACE nominee 2020, Middle Grade Readers, Mystery/Adventure, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

FRAMED! by James Ponti…2020 LOVELACE nominee Division I & II

Framed! is a really fun read.  Our main character is 12-year-old Florian Bates.  On the first page he introduces himself to the reader and lets us know that he’s an average 7th grader, aside from the fact that–despite his age–he works with the FBI. By page 4 he has been kidnapped and by page 12 he is face-to-face with a ruthless Romanian gangster. The majority of the book is then told in flashback to bring us from three months prior up to the high drama of the opening chapter.

Since Florian’s parents work in museums (his dad as a security expert and his mother as an art conservator)their family moves around quite a lot.  They have just moved back to the United States after having lived in Italy and have settled in Washington DC. As a way to assess his new surroundings and identify potential friends Florian has developed a system he calls TOAST:

“‘TOAST’ stands for the Theory of All Small Things. That’s how I read people and places. The idea is that if you add up a bunch of little details, it reveals the larger truth.”

Florian’s TOAST strategy lands him in the middle of an art heist investigation at the National Gallery and brings him to the attention of the FBI Agent in charge. Florian and his new friend, Margaret, employ the TOAST techniques to try and solve the mystery of the missing paintings and find the thief.

I have to admit that when I first started the book I let my more ‘adult’ sensibilities get in the way of enjoying the book. I had a strong reaction to the premise: a 12-year-old working with the FBI. I did a hard eye roll. The truth is that as Florian’s backstory is being told, it does have a certain feel of plausibility. Framed! reminded me very much of a TV show my children and I enjoy called Psych .(It started on USA and is alive today on amazon prime and dvd.) Framed! has a similar feel in that Florian’s character is able to both notice and synthesize small details into a larger picture, leading him to solve a crime.

Florian’s method of detecting is one of deductive reasoning and he has been aptly nicknamed ‘Young Sherlock’ by agents at the FBI. The puzzles in the story are solvable for young readers who enjoy the challenge and at the same time the plot and characters are engaging enough for readers who just want to enjoy the ride. (As a reader I am more the latter.)

After I got over myself and my initial reaction to the premise, I really enjoyed Framed!  I don’t think a young reader would have difficulty accepting the premise from the beginning–and I think it’s a brilliant way to thrust the reader immediately into Florian’s story. Framed! would make a great independent or read-aloud choice for 4th – 6th graders. It is also the first in a series (of which two more books have been published so far); I will often read aloud the first in a series and many students who enjoy it will actively seek out other books in the series or by the same author. This one is a 4 out of 5 star read for me!


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