A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn about Renaissance Italy, including details on architecture, art history, artist techniques, family life, gender roles, medicine, politics, and the Catholic church. They'll also learn about the culture and happenings of 1911-1914 France, including the many advances and innovations occurring in policing and investigative work, journalism, transportation and aviation, and radio and film. Some social and political happenings of Europe in the 1910s are also mentioned. Readers learn about the lives of many minor and major historical figures, most notably Leonardo Da Vinci.
Creativity, curiosity, and exploration result in signifcant advances in the arts and sciences. These advances and solutions to a variety of problems are also aided by determination and perseverance by both ordinary and famous people throughout history.
Positive Role Models
The lives of minor and major historical figures are explored throughout the time period of the Renaissance and the 1910s. Many of the figures have notable flaws, and some are outright evil, such as the Borgias. However, there's an overarching sense of curiosity and exploration, particularly when looking at artists such as Da Vinci and Picasso, who made great innovations and strides in their fields. The determination and perseverance, although sometimes misguided, of the various characters trying to locate the Mona Lisa is also inspiring.
The historical events of the book mostly occur in Renaissance Italy or France from 1911-1914, and all of the characters are White. The author points out the xenophobia of the times, and specifically mentions antisemitism and anti-German sentiment in Europe. The author also makes note of the limiting and restrictive gender roles of Renaissance Italy.
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Violence & Scariness
Historical violence -- assassinations, bombings, hangings, torture, and war -- is referenced mostly in general terms. There are a few graphic descriptions of violence in Renaissance Italy involving feuding families in Florence, such as the Borgias and the Medicis. This includes chopping up enemies' bodies and cutting off their tongues and hands before hanging them. It's also mentioned that Leonardo Da Vinci is fascinated by the human body and spends a lot of time dissecting dead bodies so as to learn about them. In discussing the allure of the Mona Lisa, it's said that an artist who dies by suicide blames the painting in his suicide note.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Leonardo Da Vinci is the illegitimate son of a successful married notary and a poor peasant teenager. She is married off to to another peasant.
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"Bastard" is used to describe an illegitimate child born out of wedlock.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, A Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day, with art by Brett Helquist, is an engaging work of narrative nonfiction. Author Day packs both history and humor into the story of the Mona Lisa, how the painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, and why it became so famous. Helquist's art is recognizable from many children's books, especially A Series of Unfortunate Events. The story takes place in Renaissance Italy and early twentieth century France. Creativity, curiosity, exploration, innovation, and perseverance are highlighted by a variety of historical figures, famous and not. There are general references to war and violence with a few specific descriptions of bloody violence, including cutting off body parts and hangings. The term "bastard" is used once to describe a child born outside of marriage. The author calls out the xenophobia of the time periods, with specific references to anti-German sentiment and antisemitism.
Is It Any Good?
This engaging, entertaining nonfiction book about the famous and mysterious painting will keep readers turning the pages. The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of Global Celebrity packs in humor along with history as it successfully navigates two time periods and a varied cast of historical characters. This is author Nicholas Day's first book for children, and he tells a compelling story to young readers in a clear and convincing way. Helquist's quirky black and white drawings add understanding of the time periods and go well with the humor in the storytelling. Readers will be inspired by Da Vinci's broad interests and curiosity. After learning about innovations in art and advances in science, readers may be inspired to learn more or even to try their own projects and experiments. This is a fun, well-told story that deserves a place on middle grade shelves everywhere.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.