I Am Leonardo Da Vinci: Ordinary People Change the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am Leonardo Da Vinci: Ordinary People Change the World Book Poster Image
Engaging, kid-friendly intro to Italian Renaissance genius.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Leonardo da Vinci was seriously into art, science, mathematics, and more. Some of his engineering designs were seriously ahead of their time (for example, he drew designs for a helicopter). The text, and particularly the lively illustrations incorporating some of his art (e.g. the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper), introduce it all in a way that invites kids to pick something that interests them and delve deeper. There's quite a bit about the Italian Renaissance, and introduction of Italian words like "chiaroscuro" that describe particular painting techniques at which Leonardo excelled.

Positive Messages

Study. Practice. Persevere. See the connections between things. Also strong messages of overcoming your fears when you want to learn something, constantly learning new things, and seeing how they relate to what you already know.

Positive Role Models & Representations

From childhood, Leonardo takes a lively interest in the world around him, works hard, and constantly explores new things. His father supports him and apprentices him to a kind artist, who teaches him many skills and introduces him to many interesting people. Leonardo also has the courage to accept and be himself even when others don't really understand him; he also adapts creatively to challenges, like learning to write backward (and thus not smear the ink) because he was left-handed.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Leonardo da Vinci is a part of Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos' Ordinary People Change the World series. This time the spotlight is on the brilliant, multi-talented, and definitely ahead-of-his-time artist/engineer/scientist of the Italian Renaissance. As the narrative follows little bearded Leonardo in his distinctive hat from childhood through his brilliant career, there's a lot of interesting detail about the era, classic art, architecture -- and Leonardo's quest to fly, backed by long studies of birds' and other flying animals' wings. He created designs that foreshadowed helicopters and other flying machines, and also inspired the creators of Batman. It's an engaging, kid-accessible  introduction to Leonardo, with strong messages about following your curiosity, even when you have to overcome your fears, when you want to learn something new. Also, you need hard work and practice to perfect all the skills you'll need to make something great, and new ideas are beautiful.

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What's the story?

I AM LEONARDO DA VINCI follows the kid-sized title character, with his distinctive beard and Renaissance hat, from his birth in 1452 near the small town of Vinci, Italy, through the sparse formal education that taught him to think for himself, and his apprenticeship with a local artist, where he learned hard work and developed a strong thirst for knowledge. He goes on to open his own studio and become a master of painting (think Mona Lisa) -- and also to pursue scientific knowledge and a solution to the problem of how birds fly. Much of his work, considered farfetched for centuries, has finally proved correct in our time, from early designs for what eventually became scuba gear and helicopters to studies of bat wings that inspired the creators of Batman.

Is it any good?

Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos' latest kid-friendly bio presents the famous artist and ahead-of-his-time scientist as somebody who'd be pretty interesting to  hang out with. No subject seems to escape his notice, and he's not one to let his fears get in the way when he wants to learn more. Whatever a kid's budding interests, chances are Leonardo got there first, and has useful guidance to offer, from the fine points of the chiaroscuro painting technique to designing flying machines. I Am Leonardo da Vinci leaves readers with the encouraging message: "Stay curious. Ask questions. Look closely. And always be daring."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Leonardo was interested in so many different subjects at once, as we learn in I Am Leonardo da Vinci.  Are you deeply interested in different things, too, or for you is it all about one thing -- sports? science? music?

  • Have you read other books in the Ordinary People Change the World series? How do you think I Am Leonardo da Vinci compares with some of the others?

  • Do you think the Italian Renaissance would have been a fun time to live, or do you think it's better to be living now?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biographies and art

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