As a very young child, before I can even remember, I apparently caused trouble by playing in my older sister’s dollhouse. Fortunately, I had a mother who understood the undeniable attraction of a miniature world to a little girl and a father with building skills. I was given a beautiful little handmade dollhouse of my own. I grew up with this little house. At first, it was decorated by my mother with carpet, tile, and fabric scraps from our home. Later, I caught the decorating bug. My skills hadn’t been fully developed however, so the little black mailbox on the front cabinet door will forever be glued on upside-down. At one point, the dollhouse was even an escape plan from my older brother and his friends. In grade school, I was just small enough to squeeze inside and shut the cabinet doors so I could hide from the big scary boys. Now, my dollhouse sits in my living room as a side table where I set my current reading material and a cup of tea.
Miniature worlds have always been fascinating to me. I enjoy both the art and craftsmanship involved in their creation and also the wonder and fantasy of imagination. Although it has been quite a few years since I’ve been to the Art Institute in Chicago, the 68 miniature Thorne Rooms were always a favorite part of my visits. The exquisite architecture and design of these rooms are beyond compare. Each room is set in a different location or historical period. The book Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago contains beautiful photos and descriptions of all the rooms along with the history of their conception by Mrs. James Ward Thorne. In the photos, the detail of the miniatures and the light flowing in through the tiny windows make it appear as if these are full-sized rooms that could at any moment be occupied by a real family.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a fictional book series for children with the Thorne Rooms as the main setting. The Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures contain elements of time travel, adventure, mystery, history, and magic. The author, Marianne Malone, also visited these rooms as a child. In her first book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, she imagines the escapades of two sixth-graders, Ruthie and Jack, who have discovered a magic key that allows them to shrink small enough to enter the miniature worlds. The children discover how to use the key, solve the problem of how to get into the rooms while five inches tall, and discover that they can explore beyond the walls of the historical rooms. They are able to visit France during the Renaissance and Salem during the witch trials. In the real world, Ruthie and Jack are also trying to solve the mysteries behind the magic of the key and the rooms.
As of now, there are two additional books of the adventures of Ruthie and Jack in the Thorne Rooms, The Pirate’s Coin.
These books are geared towards children in the middle grades and would be a nice read-aloud. However, anyone of any age who has enjoyed the Thorne Rooms or has played with their own dollhouse would appreciate these imaginative stories.