Eleven-year-old Matisse Jones thinks his family is a bunch of “goofy loons.” Take his father, for example. He creates huge portable smokers and barbecue pits complete with shock absorbers and wide-load flags, and he wheels them through town to pool parties, soccer games and funerals, sometimes losing control of his pigs on wheels. To Matisse, his father is “just one big advertisement for someone whose brains are all gone.” Matisse’s mother is art-obsessed, his sister purple-obsessed, and his two-year-old brother is a two-year-old brother, enough said.

However, everyone thinks Matisse is a genius. He has the gift of copying masterpieces exactly, and with the new show coming to the local art museum, where his mother is in charge of security, Matisse will have lots of inspiration for his copies. Coincidentally, this show will be a major exhibition of Matisse’s namesake: Henri Matisse. But when Matisse copies "Portrait of Pierre" and swaps his painting with the original on the wall of the museum, things turn out less amusing than Matisse expected. The museum installs a new high-tech security system, and Matisse has no opportunity to get the original back on the wall without giving away his criminal deeds.

So, he is stuck with the original. Coming from an artistic family, he knows the value of art, the importance of preserving it, and the big trouble he is in. "Portrait of Pierre" has close calls with a feather duster, humidity, water balloons and a militant security guard Matisse calls Guardzilla, as Matisse tries to protect the painting and extricate himself from his dire situation.

Matisse’s series of improbable events becomes a journey of self-discovery, in which he finds important truths about his family, himself and where his true gifts lie. Through this humorous tale, readers will learn about a portion of the art world, and they may just decide to research the work of the great Henri Matisse and his son Pierre, an influential art dealer in New York City. Though Pierre died in 1989, Bragg resurrects him for this novel so she can weave in all of the high-tech security devices that so effectively thwart Matisse Jones’ machinations. Matisse on the Loose is an amusing romp in the world of art.

Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.
 

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