Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Frank Cottrell Boyce
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2008   ISBN: 978-0060734046

It is not easy being Dylan Hughes. For one thing he is the only boy left in the Welsh village of Manod and this makes it impossible for him to do one of his favorite things, to play soccer. Then there is the fact that the family business, the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel, is not doing very well. It is not surprising really when one considers that so many people have left Manod to find work elsewhere. If there are fewer people around then there are fewer cars to fill with petrol and to tend to.

Not being willing to give up, the Hughes family try to come up with ideas which will help them make more money. Mam buys a coffee maker at a car-boot sale and they all hope that the added attraction of mochas and lattes will bring in more customers. It doesn't much.

Then the Hughes family start to have dealings with the outsiders who are doing something in the old mine on the mountain. At first Dylan does not know what is happening up there but he soon finds out. Paintings from the National Gallery are being stored in the old mine. After London flooded it was decided that it would be safer to put the paintings in the mine until the situation in the great city stabilized. So now Manod is playing host to some of the most famous and most valuable paintings in the world.

Quite by accident Lester, the man who is responsible for the paintings, thinks that Dylan is an art buff. In actual fact Dylan does not know much about art at all, unlike his bright and criminally-inclined sister Minnie. But, because they hope to encourage Lester and the other men at the mine to come to the Auto Marvel, Dylan does his best to sound as if he knows about, and likes, art.

Then matters take a turn for the worse. The Mini Copper which Dad restored and hoped to sell is stolen and after a visit from the insurance men, Dad disappears. How on earth can "team Hughes" hope to save the Auto Mart with their captain gone?

Undaunted, Dylan and his siblings press on to save their livelihood. Dylan's efforts to befriend Lester and his assistants pay off and soon the men at the mine are buying cakes from the Automart. Dylan comes up with a plan to name the cakes after famous artists, and in no time Picasso pies are selling like hotcakes. Better still, as far as the villagers of Manod are concerned, Lester agrees to let the villagers view the paintings one at a time. It isn't long before people begin to notice that the presence of the masterpieces in the mine is having a profound effect on the whole town.

During WWII the National Gallery paintings really were stored in an abandoned Welsh mine and the story of this event led the author to wonder how the presence of the paintings in their region affected the local people. And thus the seed for "Framed" was planted.

This deliciously funny story will leave readers with a serious case of laughter ache and a colorful picture of life in a small Welsh village. They will also, incidentally learn a fair bit about paintings, artists, and the art world. Written from Dylan's point of view, this is a story which is highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.