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Review:  The Stolen Smile

Review: The Stolen Smile

The Mona Lisa, painted between 1503 and 1506, is one of the most famous paintings in the world and probably Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work.  Any visit to the Louvre requires at least an attempt to see the Mona Lisa though she is sometimes hidden behind her crowds of admirers!  While painted in Italy, Leonardo sold the painting to King Francis the 1st of France and after the French Revolution (1787-1793), she was hung in the Louvre Museum where she remains to this day. In 1911, an Italian by the name of Vincenzo Peruggia was overcome with the need to repatriate the Mona Lisa, and take it back to Italy.  Told in the first person, The Stolen Smile tells Vincenzo’s story of how he snuck into the Louvre where he had been a former employee, carefully removed the glass hanging in front of the painting and quickly stuffed her in his sack!  Of course there was a panic and through the great illustrations by Gary Kelley, we are given a peek into other areas in the Louvre as they search the Oriental art gallery, the Renaissance, the sculptures, and Egyptian antiquities.  Sixty policemen were dispatched to track down the painting and the city was combed with Guillaum Appolinaire, the poet, and the painter Pabolo Picasso both suspects in the theft.  Vincenzo was himself questioned twice!  Even in the absence of the Mona Lisa, there were queues out the Louvre’s doors, with people waiting hours just to view what was now an empty spot on a wall! Everyone in the city was obsessed and Vincenzo was unable to leave his apartment without seeing headlines of the theft.  Everyone blamed everyone else.  Patiently, Vincenzo waited for the furor to die down and the prominence of the story of the Mona Lisa’s theft to disappear.  For two years, he hid the painting in his tiny Paris garret, waiting for a chance to leave the city with the painting.   Finally, other stories such as the reaching of the South Pole by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and the sinking of the Titanic eclipsed the story of the Mona Lisa and he felt it was safe to take the Mona Lisa home to...

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Review: I, Gallileo-Italy with children

Review: I, Gallileo-Italy with children

“Imagine a world with no clocks, thermometers, or telescopes.  A world where everyone believes the earth stands still as the enormous sun travels around it once each day.”  With this opening, I, Galileo sets the stage for the story of the person Albert Einstein called “the father of modern science.”  Told in the first person, a blind and aging Galileo recalls his childhood and the way that he helped his father with his musical experiments after leaving the university with no degree. He questioned traditional beliefs and proved that at least some of Aristotle’s laws of physics were incorrect. Looking through his telescope, Galileo discovered that the sun was the center of the universe. It was then that his troubles truly began. For seven years, he was bound to silence about his findings until a new pope was elected and he was allowed to publish his finding.  However, when Galileo finally published his discoveries about the sun, the moon and the stars, they so incensed people that he was tried by the Inquisition for heresy. And so the story returns to the old man imprisoned in the walled garden, “but the truth?  The truth has a way of escaping into the light.” Though it took until 1992 for the Catholic Church to admit it had been wrong in condemning Galileo and that yes, the sun was the center of our solar system, Galileo’s contributions to modern science such as the telescope, microscope and thermometer continue to be used today.  There’s a chronology of events that occurred during Galileo’s life at the end of the book which was great for helping to put things into perspective as well as a list of some of Galileo’s experiments that would be easy to try at home. “A person must be allowed to ask questions..and seek answers in search of truth.”  What a lovely thought to instill in a child.  I hope I’ve been able to encourage my children to ask questions, though sometimes we do get stuck on “but why?”  If you’re traveling to Pisa, I, Galileo, is a great introduction to one of its most famous citizens.  The Tower of Pisa has been restored and you can climb up to the top (children must be...

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Review: Leonardo Beautiful Dreamer-Italy with children

Review: Leonardo Beautiful Dreamer-Italy with children

“The love of anything is the fruit of our knowledge of it, and grows as our knowledge deepens.” Leonardo daVinci.  Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is full of information and a great resource for any child traveling to Italy or interested in Leonardo daVinci.  The endpieces are full of quotes from daVinci as the story opens with a child lying in a cradle watching the birds. Each section is  self-contained and titled with the aspect of Leonardo’s life that is being described, allowing you to fully explore each chapter of Leonardo’s life as he travels from the town of Vinci to Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome and France. There are also glimpses of Leonardo’s personality and his love of the strange and unusual as he invented bizarre creatures, dressed his pet lizard like a monster, and kept a pet porcupine that was allowed to freely wander around his house.  He took notes backwards, writing from right to left.  If you hold parts of the book up to the mirror, you can read translations from some of his notebooks. This book is definitely on the long side for a picture book with a lot of material, but there are multiple ways to read it from focusing  on the main story, to reading the additional detail in the sidebars.  You could also spend a lot time just pouring over the pictures filled with details of his discoveries, explorations and inspirations.  This is a great introduction to Leonardo da Vinci and if you are planning a trip to Tuscany, Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is a good source to pique your child’s interest in the region and the history there. If you’d like to add this book to your child’s library, click here:  Leonardo: Beautiful...

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Review: Orani: My Father’s Village-Sardinia with children

Review: Orani: My Father’s Village-Sardinia with children

“In a sea of breathtaking blue, where dolphins leaped and plunged in play, lay an island.” The opening line draws you into the author’s childhood adventures in Sardinia where her father was born, and the differences between the town and her home in New York City.  After hour after hour of travel (there are definitely times when travel seems interminable, but it is always worth the trip!), the car stops and is surrounded by her family.  The sun drenched images capture the pace of life on the island and the innocence of childhood.  With her crowd of cousins, the author is set loose to explore the town, picking fruit from the trees, getting ice cream from the cafe, and receiving holiday biscuits and chocolates from the old women everywhere.  Life in Orani is savored by the moment as the author leads us down shadowed little streets into the sun-drenched piazza of her childhood. From the opening line of Orani: My Father’s Village, Sardinia became a place I would love to visit, not that an island in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa wasn’t on my list, this just moved it further up to a place that looks like a fabulous escape.  While the Sardinia of the book is a suspended snapshot of a bygone era, Sardinia’s mountains and beaches are still beautiful and family friendly and it is a wonderful place to visit and explore. If you’d like to add Orani:  My Father’s Village to your child’s book collection, click here: Orani: My Father’s...

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Review: Strega Nona-Italy with children

Review: Strega Nona-Italy with children

“In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandma Witch.”  Strega Nona is one of those magical people who can do anything, “even the priest and the sisters of the convent went, because Strega Nona did  have a magic touch.” In Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola everything was going well and Strega Nona was content, but as she was getting older, like many of us she decided she needed help.  Who answered her ad but “Big Anthony, who didn’t pay attention.”  This line always makes my children giggle.  Big Anthony is given a list of  his duties but the most important one is never touching the pasta pot!  Of course Big Anthony wants to impress the town… The Strega Nona stories are a wonderful start to a trip to Italy.  Calabria occupies the toe of Italy and is a bit off the beaten path, but with 500 miles of coastline, shipwrecks and four national parks, there is lots to explore.   Some of the smaller towns like Locri which has been around since 680BC have amazing ruins, perfect for exploring and  allowing your children’s imagination to run as they enjoy all of the pasta Italy has to offer, even if it doesn’t come from a magic pot! If you’d like to add Strega Nona to your child’s library, click here:  Strega Nona You may also enjoy:         ...

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Review: Dodsworth in Rome-Italy with children

Review: Dodsworth in Rome-Italy with children

“‘Where are you going?’ asked Dodsworth.  ‘You said roam,’ said the duck, ‘so I’m roaming.’ ‘I meant, Rome, Italy,’ said Dosworth…The duck paused for a moment.  ‘I knew that,’ he said.” The adventures in Dodsworth in Rome arise from the duck’s misunderstandings and confusion in visiting another country, well except for gelato.  The duck is definitely not confused about gelato!  My children loved duck’s puns and malapropisms as Dodsworth and duck enjoy many of the not-to-be missed sights of Rome including making their way through the crazy traffic, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, wandering through Flea Markets, and of course visiting Vatican City to tour the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Square. There isn’t much of a plot, but the duck’s self-centeredness is entertaining as he tries to paint a duck on the Sistine Chapel (everything should have a duck) and he loses their luggage when he forgets he’s standing on their suitcase during a pizza throwing contest (which he enters because he’s good at throwing food…) Along with the sights, they enjoy lots of kid friendly food, eating pasta, pizza and lots of gelato as they make their way through the city; though I think I’d get sick if I ate 7 scoops of gelato at once, it might be fun to try! If you enjoy Dodsworth in Rome, the duck and Dodsworth have many other adventures together including trips...

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