The best middle grade books that promote a love of art

Wendy McLeod MacKnight Author Of The Frame-Up
By Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with art since I was a kid. When I look at art, I see stories, not just about what I’m seeing, but about what it was like when the painting was created: was the artist tired, grumpy, frustrated? Why’d they paint it the way they did? Sadly, my artistic talent is limited, but fortunately, I can tell stories. After visiting William Orpen’s painting of Mona Dunn at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, I couldn’t help wondering why he made her look so pensive. The only way I could answer that question was by writing my own story about Mona and the other paintings in the gallery!

I wrote...

The Frame-Up

By Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Ian Schoenherr (illustrator),

Book cover of The Frame-Up

What is my book about?

There’s one important rule at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery—don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Mona Dunn, forever frozen at thirteen when her portrait was painted by William Orpen, has just broken that rule. Luckily twelve-year-old Sargent Singer, an aspiring artist himself, is more interested in learning about the world behind the frame than in sharing her secret. When Mona and Sargent suspect shady dealings behind the scenes at the gallery, they set out to uncover the culprit and find a way to save the gallery—and each other—before they’re lost forever. 

Booklist said, “This chapter book’s most memorable element is also its most unusual: the imaginative conviction that art is alive.” Includes images of the real paintings featured in the book.

The books I picked & why

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Chasing Vermeer

By Blue Balliett, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Book cover of Chasing Vermeer

Why this book?

This book is a modern classic and no wonder – delightful characters, a twisty-turny mystery, and best of all: art. The way Balliett introduces kids to the world of art through puzzles, codes, wordplay, is clever and thrilling and had me completely entranced. The world of art theft is both thrilling and chilling, and this book takes us both places.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

By e. l. konigsburg,

Book cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Why this book?

I read this book years ago and absolutely loved it! The story of Claudia, who decides to run away and live at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with her brother Jamie. Is filled to the brim with art appreciation, and the power that wonderful art can have to transform our lives.

The Painting

By Charis Cotter,

Book cover of The Painting

Why this book?

My vocabulary for analyzing any piece of art is through storytelling; I can’t tell you how often I’ve looked at a painting and wishing I could step inside at that very moment. It’s a lot of the inspiration behind my own book. But in The Painting, Charis Cotter turns this idea on its head, leaving us wondering if stepping inside a painting would be all we think it would be. This story of suspense and fear and loss is a page-turner!


By Elise Broach, Kelly Murphy (illustrator),

Book cover of Masterpiece

Why this book?

A middle-grade novel about an artistic beetle? Sign me up. This delightful story of a talented beetle named Marvin, his human friend James, who work together to help the Metropolitan Museum of Art recover a stolen artwork is delightful, thrilling, and heartwarming. It’s not always easy to have (or not have) artistic talent!

The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray

By E. Latimer,

Book cover of The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray

Why this book?

As a kid, I was always enthralled by the idea of paintings coming to life. Blame it on old Vincent Price movies and Scooby-Doo cartoons!  This book is clever and creepy, and at its heart, speaks to the power art has to change the world by unleashing truths we might not want to talk about. You may want to read some of this book with the lights on! (I did!)

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