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Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting

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Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting


  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen


  About the Author

  Also Available


  “Claudia! I didn’t know you were going to stop by today.” My mom stood in the doorway leading to her office behind the main desk at the Stoneybrook Public Library.

  I have to admit that the library isn’t my favorite place, even though my mom is the head librarian. That’s because books and I, Claudia Kishi, don’t mix very well — especially school books. Nancy Drew books are a different story. I have them hidden all over my room so I can read one anytime I feel like it. They’re hidden because my mom and dad don’t consider Nancy Drew “worthwhile reading.”

  But today I was surrounded by all kinds of worthwhile reading and Mom looked a little surprised as she walked out from behind the desk and gave me a hug. She was wearing a pair of earrings I’d made her: tiny books that really open, hanging from silver wires. The earrings were the only thing that saved her outfit from being totally boring. She wore a plain black skirt and a plain red blouse, and it made her look like — a librarian. There’s nothing wrong with that exactly, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in anything so ordinary.

  Clothes are sort of a hobby for me. I try never to wear the same outfit twice. Today I had on navy blue pants with wide legs, red suspenders decorated with big sunbursts, a white T-shirt, and over it all, a huge red-and-white-checked shirt. My earrings were also bright yellow sunbursts that I made to match the suspenders. My hair was in one long braid hanging down my back, tied with a red-and-white-checked bow. Except for the fact that we’re both Japanese-American and have the same color hair and eyes, no one would ever guess that Mom and I are related.

  This doesn’t mean I love my mom any less. In fact, my entire family is pretty cool, even if they don’t look it. My dad’s a partner in an investment firm in Stamford, the city nearest to Stoneybrook, Connecticut, where we live. I have one sister, Janine. Mom wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she turned up at the library. That’s because Janine is a full-fledged, authentic genius, with the IQ to prove it. She loves school, books, computers, and all of that stuff. She’s a junior at Stoneybrook High School, but she also takes classes at Stoneybrook University in all kinds of things I can’t pronounce, let alone spell or understand.

  I’m in the seventh grade at Stoneybrook Middle School. I used to be in the eighth grade, but I fell too far behind in my work, so I went back to catch up. It’s not that I’m dumb, it’s just that school is … well, school. It’s hard for me to work up a lot of excitement over math and science and spelling when I have all these great ideas in my head. And I do get A’s in some classes, such as art.

  I love art — painting, sculpting, photography, you name it — and I know I’ll use the things I learn in art class. I already do, every day. Mom’s and my earrings are just one example. I’ve taught an art class, I’m an honorary trustee at the Stoneybrook Museum, and I use art all the time when I’m baby-sitting.

  I love to baby-sit almost as much as I love art. I belong to this very cool club called the Baby-sitters Club, or BSC, along with some of my friends who like kids as much as I do. But I’ll tell you more about that later.

  Actually, it was a combination of baby-sitting and art that had brought me to the library. Of course, Mom didn’t know that, and she asked (hopefully, I thought), “Are you working on an assignment for school?” When I was in eighth grade and often behind, Mom, Dad, and Janine pitched in to help me with my homework, so you can see why Mom would be excited to think that I might be getting a head start on it. My grandmother, Mimi, used to help too, but she died not long ago. I still miss her.

  “I’m trying to find out something about Grandmother Madden, an artist,” I said, once again shattering my mom’s hopes that some of Janine was rubbing off on me. Although I know my parents are every bit as proud of me as they are of my sister, I think they wish I were a little more like her in some ways. Then again, maybe they wish she were like me in some ways.

  “Grandmother Madden?” Mom looked blank. “What’s her full name?”

  “Grandmother Madden,” I repeated. “That’s how she signed her artwork and how she’s known. She’s a folk artist who painted in the primitive style, and she used to live here in Stoneybrook. I’m baby-sitting for her great-grandson tomorrow. His mom inherited her grandmother’s house and is getting it ready to sell.”

  Right in front of my eyes Mom changed into Superlibrarian. I could almost see the outline of a cape trailing behind her. “We can look under Madden, primitive art, folk art, local artists,” Mom said as I followed her to the electronic card catalog. Using the electronic card catalog is something I learned to do almost as soon as I learned to read. Mom knew this, but I could tell she wanted to find out about Grandmother Madden too. There are no limits to Superlibrarian’s curiosity.

  We didn’t find anything under Madden, but there was a book called Primitive Artists of the Twentieth Century and another with the title Folk Art.

  Again I followed Mom, to the shelves this time. (She didn’t even have to write down the call numbers of the books.) But neither book was there.

  Being the head librarian, my mom has her ways of finding out where a book is at all times (thanks to her superpowers and the computer). She clicked a few keys and discovered that both books were checked out. “They’re due in at the end of next week. We can put a request in, so you’ll be notified when they come back,” Mom said, still typing.

  “It won’t help me for tomorrow, but go ahead,” I said. I’d become pretty interested in folk art, and I wanted to find out more about it.

  “Wait a minute. Did you say she used to live here in Stoneybrook?” Mom’s eyebrows came together and she drummed her fingers on the checkout desk.

  I nodded.

  “Maybe there’s been something about her in the newspaper.” Mom took off again, and I followed again. This time we ended up at the microfilm machines. All the old issues of the Stoneybrook News are stored on microfilm.

  In no time, Mom had Grandmother Madden’s obituary on the screen. She’d been dead for six years. That was weird. Why was her granddaughter just now getting around to selling the house? I knew she hadn’t been living in it, because she’d come to town from New York City. Kristy Thomas, our BSC president, said her mom had given Ms. Madden the BSC’s phone number.

  Besides Rebecca Madden — the woman who had called us for a sitter — one daughter, three other grandchildren, and one great-grandson were listed as survivors. The obituary mentioned that Grandmother Madden had taught art in Stoneybrook, but it didn’t say anything about her being an artist.

  By the time I finished reading the obituary, Mom had found two more recent articles about Grandmother Madden. They answered all the questions the first article raised but gave me a couple of new ones to think about. They also made me very excited about my new job.

  The first article was about folk art in general, but it included a big section on Grandmother Madden:

  Folk art, for many years snubbed by the art community for being too simplistic, is finally coming into its own. Artists who once were unable to give their paintings away are now selling their work for undreamed-of prices.

  A prime example of this trend is local artist Grandmother Madden. Madden, whose work was savaged by critics in her last show in New York City, withdrew from the art world and spent her final years teaching students the basics of oil painting in a studio in her Stoneybrook home. Recently, when one of the few Madden primitives available was auctioned, it brought in six figures.

  There was also a blurry picture of the auctioned painting. It looked like an old-fashioned village with lots of busy people in it. I read on.

  Mrs. Madden’s work features bright primary and secondary colors and minute detail. Her smallest figures are fully developed, down to freckles on the noses of the children and rings and earrings adorning the adult subjects. Clothes sport lace and buttons, and pets may have tiny cobwebs on their whiskers. Looking inside each door and window rewards the viewer with another scene of what is going on inside the building.

  I squinted my eyes and tried to see this in the newspaper picture, but I could barely make out the people and buildings, much less jewelry and windows and whiskers on the animals. I’d have to wait until the next day to see one for real. I asked Mom to make me a copy of the article before she loaded the next one.


  Rebecca Madden, granddaughter of renowned folk artist Grandmother Madden, prevailed in the five-year court battle that began when her cousins challenged their late grandmother’s will.

  I compared the dates of the obituary and this article. Grandmother Madden had gone from art teacher to renowned folk artist in six years. I figured that the court case explained why it had taken so long for Rebecca to get around to selling the house.

  As it turned out, the battle was over a house rather than the fortune in paintings that the descendants had hoped to find. When Grandmother Madden showed her work in New York City for the last time, sales were disastrous and the reviews brutally negative. After that show, the parties concluded, she destroyed all the paintings still in her possession. No artwork from that show or from any later date can be found. When the cousins learned that they were fighting over a house, they dropped their suit, leaving the entire estate to Rebecca Madden, who is following in her grandmother’s artistic footsteps.

  “Mom, how could she do it?” I asked, trying to think of something so bad that it would make me destroy my artwork and stop creating new pieces. I couldn’t think of a thing. My paintings, my jewelry, my sculpture, my photographs, they are all a part of me. It would hurt too much to wipe them out.

  The news that many of Grandmother Madden’s paintings had been destroyed quickly raised the value of her existing work. Single paintings owned by each of her grandchildren were estimated to double in value.

  “Could you make a copy of this one too?” I asked Mom.

  I’d passed by the Madden house many times because it isn’t far from my house. It’s a big, old house set back from the street, and it has a large yard with lots of trees. Inside there could be lots of places to hide things — including pictures. I’d be spending a lot of time there in the next week or so. Maybe I’d have a chance to look around a little.

  “Claudia, there are no paintings,” Mom said. “Grandmother Madden destroyed any she’d kept.”

  I jumped. Mom seemed to be reading my mind. “I couldn’t, no matter what anybody said, ever, ever destroy all my artwork,” I replied.

  “But Mrs. Madden did. It says so in this article.” Mom pointed at the paragraph. “Have you been reading Nancy Drew again?”

  “Why do you ask that?” I even laughed a little as I put on my most innocent face and reread what the reporter had written. Who were “the parties”? And how had they “concluded” that she’d destroyed the paintings? I wasn’t convinced.

  “You have a baby-sitting job for this family, not a detective job,” Mom reminded me.

  Mom knew me well. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m just excited about maybe seeing one of these paintings. Each grandchild has one, right? And the article said that Rebecca Madden is an artist too. We’ll have a lot in common.”

  I tucked the newspaper articles in my backpack. I couldn’t wait to show them to my friends in the BSC at our meeting that afternoon.

  When I got home from the library, it was almost time for our BSC meeting. We meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from five-thirty (sharp!) until six. Our meetings always start on time, thanks to President Kristy.

  I was hungry, and I knew my friends would be too. I uncovered a few snacks (I have to hide junk food around my room, the same way I hide Nancy Drews). I found a package of M&M’s that I’d stuck under my pillow, a couple of Ho-Hos from a box in the closet, and a bag of pretzels that was tucked away in a desk drawer.

  As soon as I’d arranged the snacks (meaning, tossed them on the bed) and eaten a handful of M&M’s, I dug out the articles on Grandmother Madden that were in my backpack. I wished I could see more details of the painting, but you can imagine how clear a photocopy of a microfilm copy of a newspaper photo comes out. I thought I saw traces of Stoneybrook in the picture, which wouldn’t be too far-fetched, since Grandmother Madden had lived here. A picture of my room might be fun to try. I could capture a BSC meeting, with all of us sitting around my room. As I reached out for a pad and pencil, Kristy burst into the room and plopped down in the director’s chair.

  “What are you drawing?” she asked, twisting to see my pad.

  “Nothing yet, but I have this idea. Remember that friend of your mom’s, Rebecca Madden? I’m sitting for her son tomorrow, so I went to the library to look up Grandmother Madden, the artist, Rebecca’s grandmother. I don’t know a lot about her art style. These articles are all I found, but there’s some good stuff about missing paintings and fights over her will. And I’d love to be able to see some of the paintings for myself.” I handed Kristy the clippings, then quickly sketched her into the picture.

  A picture of Kristy sitting still isn’t really a picture of her at all. She’s always on the move, full of energy and ideas. One thing she doesn’t waste any of her energy on is deciding what to wear. I’ve known her my whole life and she’s been dressed in jeans, a turtleneck, and running shoes for most of that time. She’s short for an eighth-grader and has brown hair and brown eyes.

  Kristy, her mom, her two older brothers, and her younger brother used to live across the street from us. Kristy’s dad took off when David Michael, her younger brother, was a baby. When her mom married Watson Brewer not long ago, they all moved into his mansion across town. They can afford to live in a mansion because Watson is a millionaire. And they need a big house because in addition to the Thomas kids, Watson has two kids from his first marriage, Karen and Andrew, who live there every other month. Mr. and Mrs. Brewer also adopted a little girl from Vietnam, whom they named Emily Michelle. (She’s two and a half now.) Kristy’s grandmother, Nannie, moved in after Emily Michelle arrived, to help with the baby. If that’s not enough, Kristy’s family also has enough pets to stock a small zoo. There’s not a whole lot of quiet time at the Thomas/Brewer home.

  It was back before there was a Thomas/Brewer household that Kristy came up with the idea for the BSC. One day, when her mom was about to pull her hair out because she’d called all over town and still couldn’t find a baby-sitter for David Michael, Kristy thought, what if parents could call one number and reach a bunch of sitters? And now they can. That’s one reason Kristy is our president. Then there are all the other good ideas she comes up with, such as keeping a club record book and a club notebook, and creating Kid-Kits. And she makes sure we stick to club business during our meetings too.

  If you’re wondering what all that stuff is, I’ll tell you. The record book contains information about the families we sit for (names, addresses, phone numbers, rates paid), schedules of our baby-sitting jobs, and individual schedules for each of us. The club notebook is more like a journal. We write in it after each of our jobs. Even though I don’t like writing in the notebook, I know it keeps us up-to-date.
We always know what’s going on with our clients, even if we haven’t seen some of them for a while.

  Kid-Kits are decorated boxes. Each of us has one, and everybody’s is different. In them we put books, stickers, art supplies, toys, games, and lots of other neat stuff. Mine has extra art supplies, naturally. We mainly use the Kid-Kits in special situations — on rainy days, to “welcome” new kids, or when something is going on in the family, such as the arrival of a new baby.

  I’m vice-president of the club because we meet in my room, and it’s my phone number that parents call to arrange for sitters. I sketched myself on the bed, sketching. I guess making sure we always have snacks helps me keep my job. I drew in some junk food.

  Mary Anne Spier arrived next and joined me on the bed. She used to live here on Bradford Court too. She and Kristy are best friends, but they are so different in some ways that I sometimes wonder why they’re best friends. Mary Anne is short and has brown hair and brown eyes like Kristy, but her hair has style and her clothes do too (not as much as mine, but a lot more than Kristy’s). This wasn’t always the case. Mary Anne’s mom died when Mary Anne was a baby, so for a long time her family was just her and her dad. He was pretty strict with Mary Anne. He wanted her to wear pigtails and babyish jumpers forever. Finally, Mary Anne convinced him she wasn’t a little girl anymore. She cut her hair and started choosing her own clothes. Her dad also let her get a kitten she named Tigger. I drew Mary Anne sitting on the bed, holding Tigger, even though he doesn’t come to BSC meetings.

  That’s not all that changed in the Spier family. Around the same time, Mary Anne and her other best friend, Dawn Schafer, found out that Dawn’s mom (who was divorced) and Mr. Spier had dated in high school. They got the two of them back together — and I mean together. They’re married now, so Dawn and Mary Anne are sisters as well as best friends. The problem is that Dawn (who had moved to Stoneybrook from California in seventh grade) decided she missed her brother, her dad, and California too much, so she moved back to the West Coast.

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