X marks the spot in a new children’s book called Xavier Marx and the Missing Masterpieces. This rhyming story by Hilary Genga and Sean Cronin about an elementary school class’ trip to a museum provides all the clues young readers need to solve a $10,000 treasure hunt.
With a secret clue from actor Jesse Eisenberg and additional bonus clues provided via the book’s Instagram page by celebrities including Jason Alexander, Wil Wheaton, Ethan Cutkosky, Melissa Joan Hart, Clancy Brown, Daymond John and Queen Sandra Diaz-Twine, the adventure will eventually bring one lucky winner – or family of winners – to a physical location in the continental US. There, intrepid treasure hunters can find the hidden token, which can then be redeemed for prize money.
All proceeds from the book benefit the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF), which encourages creativity and empathy in young people through art and also provides a variety of images by child artists to be used for fun (and possibly as a reference) in the book itself.
“As far as clues go, the whole book is up for grabs,” says Genga. “By solving every clue in the book, you can go straight to the exact spot and get the treasure. If you don’t solve everything but get into the general area, then it’s more of an Easter egg hunt.”
Genga and Cronin came up with the idea for the book in the early days of the pandemic, when many activities were off-limits and families were looking for safe outdoor ways to have fun together. Genga runs a swimwear company in Tarzana and Cronin is a filmmaker based in Long Beach. The friends met online years ago as active users of Eisenberg’s gaming site oneupme.com. They ended up creating their own game for the site.
Genga’s love of games also extended to treasure hunts. She had been following the story of the Fenn treasure buried in the Rocky Mountains in 2010 by an art dealer and author named Forrest Fenn. Estimated at $2 million, it was found by one lucky winner in June 2020.
“There’s actually a community of treasure hunters, if you can believe that,” Genga says, adding that she and Cronin joined her in participating in some hunts before creating the book, which Cronin wrote and artist Sara Martin illustrated.
Cronin and Genga broke the code for the Great US Treasure Hunt last year to find where a $10,000 token was hidden. They were trying to find their way to the Tennessee site when an announcement came that another hunter had just reached them.
“We’ve had the super high of solving something, and then the super low of being like, ‘Oh look, we thought we had $10,000,'” Cronin says, laughing.
The close conversation prompted the pair to discuss what they liked and disliked about the various hunts they knew about and had been involved in. That’s when they started thinking about what their ideal treasure hunt would look like. They finally came up with the idea of a children’s book that would keep the whole family busy and benefit a good cause.
“Xavier Marx and the Missing Masterpieces” is the story of a little boy who, because of his name, is always at the end of the alphabet and is therefore often called last.
“I’m a little nerd. And routinely expelled,” he says in the book. “But I know I’m smart and I know I’m cool! Even though I’m not the most popular at school.”
However, during a class field trip to an art museum, Xavier emerges as a hero when the museum’s masterpieces disappear and he solves the case.
The book ends with a mischievous twist that reminds young readers that art is in the eye of the beholder – and that the art they create really matters.
The moral of the story is part of what got ICAF co-founder Katty Guerami interested in the project. One of the ICAF’s main events is the Art Olympiad, an Olympic Games-style event held every four years. Classrooms around the world participate, and children produce art for local exhibitions. The winners of these shows participate in the World Children’s Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC
The artwork created by children for “Xavier Marx” was made by young art Olympians, Guerami says, adding that children were thrilled to have their work in an actual children’s book.
Guerami says she’d like to see large institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art have wings or even a room dedicated to children’s work, a theme that also comes up in Xavier Marx.
She paraphrases Picasso’s quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” adding that there is a documented phenomenon called “the slump in fourth grade.” Class” and happens to children between the ages of 8 and 12. This is when children begin to conform and begin to lose their innate creativity as they attempt to satisfy societal notions of appropriate creative expression.
“So ICAF comes in almost like an intervention,” she says. “We have programs designed to say, ‘Hey, you know what? Your creativity is great, you have to keep at it. You can go ahead and think outside the box.’”
Genga and Cronin were immediately drawn to this philosophy and worked to weave it into the book along with the clues to guide readers to the treasure hunt token.
It wasn’t an easy trick, say Genga and Cronin. The two won’t reveal their secrets, but they believe thousands of people are currently searching for the treasure. This includes the hardcore treasure hunter community, who buy all treasure hunt books as soon as they are published, as well as families across the country. Some have written to the book’s authors to tell them where they looked – or to post their solutions.
One mother, Genga says, wrote that her 8-year-old daughter was convinced the treasure was hidden behind a Van Gogh print on the wall of her dental office. Genga and Cronin don’t usually respond to false guesses because they don’t want to reveal anything, but in this case Genga says she has to write back.
“I said, ‘Please tell your little girl that’s a good guess, but the treasure is definitely not in her dentist’s wall,'” Genga says, with a laugh.
Cronin advises all seekers out there to first read the book cover to cover without looking for clues. Then he says to delve back in and study each page.
“Think about different options for what might look out of place,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Well, why would the writer do that? Why did the author make this choice? Why did the illustrator make this choice?’ And you can start to form a theory. At the end of the day, it has to lead to a place.”
Hardy treasure hunters beware: Genga and Cronin believe this case has the best chance of being cracked by a child’s imagination.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-06/treasure-hunt-childrens-art-book A $10,000 treasure hunt is embedded in a children’s art book