X marks the spot in a new children’s book called ‘Xavier Marx and the Missing Masterpieces’. Created by Hilary Genga and Sean Cronin, this rhyming story about an elementary school class’s field trip to a museum has all the clues young readers need to solve a $10,000 scavenger hunt.
With a secret clue written by 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 take one lucky winner – or a family of winners – to a physical location in the continental United States. There, intrepid treasure hunters can find the hidden token, which can then be redeemed for the prize money.
All proceeds from the book benefit the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF), which nurtures creativity and empathy in young people through art, and has also provided a variety of images of child artists which are used for fun effect (and possibly for clues) in the book itself.
“The entire book is up for grabs when it comes to clues,” says Genga. “If you solve all the clues in the book, you can walk to the exact spot and get the treasure. If you don’t solve everything, but enter the general area, it’s more like an egg hunt from Easter.
The idea for the book came to Genga and Cronin at the start of the pandemic, when many activities were banned and families were looking for safe outdoor options to enjoy together. Genga runs a swimsuit business in Tarzana and Cronin is a filmmaker living in Long Beach. The friends met online years ago as active users of Eisenberg’s gambling site, oneupme.com. They eventually created their own game for the site.
Genga’s love of games has extended to treasure hunts. She had been following the story of the Fenn Treasure, buried in the Rockies in 2010 by an art dealer and author named Forrest Fenn. Estimated at $2 million, it was found by a lucky winner in June 2020.
“There is actually a community of treasure hunters, if you can believe it,” Genga says, adding that she and Cronin joined its ranks when they participated in a few hunts before creating the book, which Cronin has written and illustrated by artist Sara Martin.
Cronin and Genga cracked the code for America’s Great Treasure Hunt last year to find where a token worth $10,000 was hidden. They were trying to find their way to the Tennessee site when they were told another hunter had just reached it.
“We were able to experience the super high of solving something and then the super low of being like, ‘Oh, shoot, we thought we had $10,000,'” Cronin says with a laugh.
The close call led to the pair discussing their likes and dislikes about the various hunts they knew of and had been on. That’s when they started thinking about what their ideal treasure hunt would be. They finally came up with the idea of a children’s book that would engage the whole family and benefit a good cause.
“Xavier Marx and the Missing Masterpieces” is the story of a little boy who, by name, is always near the end of the alphabet and therefore often the last to be asked.
“I’m a bit of a nerd. And regularly banned,” 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.
On a class trip to an art museum, however, Xavier emerges as the hero when the museum’s masterpieces go missing and he solves the case.
The book ends with a mischievous twist, reminding 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 drew ICAF co-founder Katty Guerami to the project. One of ICAF’s main events is the Arts Olympiad, an Olympics-inspired event that takes place every four years. Classrooms around the world participate, with children producing artwork for local exhibits. The winners of these exhibits participate in the Children’s World Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The child-created artwork for “Xavier Marx” was made by recent arts Olympians, Guerami says, adding that the children were thrilled to have their work in a real children’s book.
Guerami says she’d like to see major institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art feature wings — or even a room — dedicated to child labor, 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 “fourth grade collapse”, which 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 ideas of appropriate creative expression.
“So ICAF comes in almost like an intervention,” she says. “We have programs that are about saying, ‘Hey, you know what? Your creativity is great, you have to stick to 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 lead readers to the treasure hunt token.
It wasn’t an easy trick, say Genga and Cronin. The couple won’t share their secrets, but say 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 come out, as well as families across the country. Some wrote to the creators of the book to share their research or to offer their solutions.
A mother, Genga says, wrote to say her 8-year-old daughter had become convinced the treasure was inside the wall of her dentist’s office, behind a handprint of Van Gogh. Genga and Cronin usually don’t respond to inaccurate guesses because they don’t want to reveal anything, but in this case Genga says she had to respond.
“I said, ‘Please tell your little girl that’s a good guess, but the treasure is definitely not inside her dentist’s wall,'” Genga said laughing. .
To all seekers, Cronin advises to first read the book cover to cover without looking for clues. Then he says to dig in and study every page.
“Think of different options of anything possible that maybe seems out of place,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Well, why would the author do that? Why did the author make that choice? Why did the illustrator make that choice? And you can start developing a theory. Ultimately, it must lead to a location.
Hardened treasure hunters beware: Genga and Cronin believe this case has the best chance of being solved by the imaginative mind of a child.