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The Museum of Lost and Found

The Museum of Lost and Found by Leila Sales


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

Vanessa finds an abandoned museum. Then the 11-year-old and her friends fill it with art and memories that only neighborhood kids can come see.

Plot Summary

Vanessa and Bailey used to be the best of friends. In some ways, they were each other’s only friends. I mean, they did things with other kids, but for both girls there was only one person who was a must-have at any party, or the first one you always told a secret to. For Bailey, it was Vanessa. For Vanessa, it was Bailey.

And then suddenly it wasn’t.

It’s not that Vanessa wanted things to change. And frankly, she had no idea why they had. But out of the blue, Bailey was hanging with some other girls, and they rarely got together anymore.

She hadn’t given up on fixing whatever was wrong, but right now Vanessa had a lot more time by herself. That’s when she found an abandoned museum.

She had started this new game called Explore and Get Lost, or EGL. The rules were simple: You started walking and each time you came to a fork in the road, you took the direction you were less familiar with. And one warm January day, EGL led Vanessa to an overgrown lot and weathered building she didn’t remember before.

She shimmied past the fence with a No Trespassing sign and found a broken open window that gave her access to the most fascinating nothing that Vanessa had ever seen. It was a place filled with empty display cases, empty frames, empty pedestals.

At first, this abandoned building—one that was standing long past the demolition date posted on the front fence—became a secret place to visit and wander. She brought a broom from home, swept out the leaves and gathered the trash. Vanessa even hung a trash bag on that broken window to keep stuff from blowing in.

Then she has an idea. She had visited a museum recently with her Hebrew class. And it had been filled with memories and objects from history that told an important story of the Jews. What if Vanessa did something like that, too?

The loss of Bailey as her best friend is still weighing heavily on Vanessa. So, what if she gathered all her Bailey-related belongings and curated her own exhibit, right here in her secret museum? It would tell the history of their friendship. Show how important it was. Vanessa might even be able to convince Bailey to come see it and get her friend to remember important parts of their past.

The work on the exhibit goes well. She puts things up in displays. She labels each piece, each memory. But just before Vanessa is ready to share it with Bailey, she climbs into the museum to find that someone else has been there. They even made a display featuring a dog bowl and a badly chewed tennis ball.

The display’s label reads: Dogs Like to Chew Tennis Balls.

And with a start, Vanessa realizes that her secret museum isn’t so secret anymore.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Vanessa, her mom and brother are Jewish, and we meet various extended family members of the same faith. Since Vanessa is 11 years old, her bat mitzvah—a ritual that commemorates a young woman’s coming-of-age under Jewish law—is fast approaching. We see her going to Hebrew school and discussing Jewish history.

Vanessa and her family also celebrate Hanukkah together. Readers get an inside look into the preparations and reasons for that Jewish festival. Vanessa talks about the repetition of Jewish celebrations and the importance of recounting events from the past to remember the history of Jewish faith, the struggles of God’s people, and the faithfulness of God.

Vanessa playfully wonders if people will think she’s a “secret wizard” who’s “using a broom for Quidditch practice” when she carries her mom’s broom to the museum. Vanessa finds a painting called “The Angel Opens His Mouth and Speaks the Truth.” The work features two friends standing next to a fountain with an angelic face on it.

Authority Roles

Vanessa’s parents are both extremely important to her. Her dad is in the Army and posted overseas, and that’s an added stress for her and the family. We learn later that Mom and Dad are separated. But they both show respect for one another. And though Dad isn’t Jewish, he returns home for the family’s Hanukkah celebration and reinforces those traditions and rules.

Mom and Dad do all they can to show their love for the kids. Dad calls regularly and spends time with them when he’s in town. Mom is very protective. And though she has very firm rules about everything—which cause Vanessa to refrain from telling her about the secret museum—Mom displays her love for the children regularly.

Both Vanessa and her brother, Sterling, display some emotional/physical ticks that appear to be connected to Dad’s absence. Sterling, who’s in high school, has had issues sleeping and connecting with kids his own age. Vanessa has a nervous habit of constantly picking at the skin on her hands and legs, leaving spots ragged and raw. She tries desperately to control herself, but eventually learns that she has a condition called Trichotillomania.

Profanity & Violence

No foul language or alcohol use. There’s an attack on a base that Dad is transferred to, and family members worry when they can’t contact him for a long stretch of time. When Vanessa sees two uniformed soldiers walking down her street she panics, fearing that they’re there to deliver bad news. Eventually, however, Dad calls to say he’s OK. Base officers had called for a communications blackout after the attack.

Sexual Content

Vanessa discovers a painting left behind in the museum. She eventually contacts the artist, who turns out to be quite famous. The artist talks about staying in that little town when she was in her 20s and giving the painting to a dear female friend she made there. It is very lightly implied that there might have been more than friendship between them.

Discussion Topics

Have you ever had a special friendship change suddenly? What was your reaction? What do you think is the best thing to do in a situation like that? What’s the best way to let someone know how we feel?

Have you gone to a museum before? What kind? What did you learn? What do you think about the kids’ choice to put important memories, art and projects on display? Are there things of yours that might make for an interesting exhibit?

What do you think about Mariko Marsden’s suggestion that personal things of the past can be valued, but it’s the things of the future that are most important? Is she right? Take a look at Isaiah 43:18-19. What do you think this verse means?

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Additional Comments

This well-crafted novel encourages young readers to value the memories and friendships of their past, while looking forward to the exciting possibilities yet to come. The Museum of Lost and Found also offers compelling insights into Jewish faith and its traditions.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose