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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: A Lion in Paris-Paris with children

Review: A Lion in Paris-Paris with children

The lion was bored, so where else would he go but the City of Light?  The lonely, bored lion is nervous about being in the big city wondering what people will think of him.  He’s not too sure what he thinks of them!  Told from the perspective of the lion, A Lion in Paris relates the strange things the lion finds in the city as he struggle to find his place including everyone carrying swords (baguettes), the noise of the metro (no one heard him when he roared), the thousand stars of light glinting off of a huge factory (Centre Pompidou), the girl who finally notices him (the Mona Lisa), the white castle (Sacre Coeure), and the enormous iron tower (the Eiffel Tower). For children who have visited or know the sights of Paris, the Lion’s perspective will elicit lots of giggles.    — I’ll have to keep an eye on the potential use of baguettes as swords now that they have the idea in their heads!  It’s always fun to see the places your favorite characters visited.  Nonetheless, I went back and forth on this book, trying to determine what I thought about it.  My boys found it enjoyably silly.  I enjoyed the tour of the city, but found the book as a whole a little odd.  We will still be on the look out for the statue in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris the next time we visit and we may very well stop at the Cafe de Flore for coffee, just like the lion. If you’d like to add this book to your child’s library, click here:  A Lion in...

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Review: Madeline-Paris with children

Review: Madeline-Paris with children

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”  Who doesn’t remember the opening lines of this childhood favorite?  Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans was first published in 1939 and four of the six original stories are set in Paris.  They are perfect for creating a tour and an introduction to some of the most popular sites in the city. In the original, Madeline, the twelve little girls in two straight lines leave the house at half past nine in rain or shine. Even a case of appendicitis doesn’t interrupt their routine much.   On their walks, you see the Eiffel Tower, the Opera, the Place Vendome, The Hotel des Invalides, Notre Dame, the Garden at Luxembourg, the Church of the Sacre Coeur, the Tuilleries Gardens and the Louvre.  The rhyming language is great for younger children and Madeline is very easy to relate to.  In Madeline’s Rescue, Madeline manages to fall into the Seine, much to the horror of Miss Clavel, the nun in charge of the girls.  Fortunately she is rescued by a quick thinking dog, but there is only one dog and 12 little girls.  Needless to say, there is more than enough love for the dog to go around!  Unfortunately, the board of trustees does not approve of pets and the dog must be sent away.  The girls aren’t willing to settle for that, and as soon as the trustees leave they all go looking all over the city for Genevieve without any luck.  Distraught, they return to the school; but late that night Genevieve shows up with her own surprise. Instead of going for an unexpected swim in the Seine like Madeline, we’d recommend a boat tour.  There are lots of options ranging from short tours to longer dinner cruises and a range of prices for different budgets.  Madeline falls into the Seine from Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris with a view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the background.  Madeline is carried past the Institute de France which houses the Académie Française, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Académie des Sciences, and Académie des Beaux-Arts.  When looking for Genevieve, they walk up to Montmartre.  They pass Les Deux Magots (which still exists),...

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Review: A Giraffe goes to Paris-Paris with children

Review: A Giraffe goes to Paris-Paris with children

 What would you think a giraffe was if you’d never seen one before?  A camel?  A horse? A leopard with those spots? Based on a true story, A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, the Pasha of Egypt sends a gift to King Charles X of France in 1826.  No one in France had ever seen a giraffe before and no one knew what she was. The story is narrated by Atir, Belle’s attendant and he tells the story of Belle’s trip on the Nile with her entourage of three cows (for milk) and two antelopes (for company).  Fitting a giraffe on a wooden boat is a bit tricky.  It was too dangerous to keep her above on the deck and she was too tall to go below, so they cut a hole in the deck for her head to stick out and and provided her with an umbrella to keep the sun and rain off of her. When they arrived in Marseilles, people didn’t know what to think.  They had never seen such a creature before.   Lavish parties were thrown in Belle’s honor, new fashions were started, but they still had to get Belle to Paris so she could be given to the king and Paris was 500 miles further away.  Today you can fly or take the high speed train between Marseilles or even drive, but how would you get a giraffe there?  There were no carts big enough to get her there so they decided to walk the entire five hundred miles.  She of course needed the right clothes to protect her from the different climate.  The temperatures and climates in France are not the same as in Egypt! They set off for the walk to Paris with quite the entourage and crowds lining the roads to get a glimpse of the fabulous giraffe.  Inns hung out special signs welcoming Belle and they wound their way through Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Orange, Valence, and Lyons on their way to Paris.  After eight weeks, they finally arrived in Paris and were introduced to the King where Belle charmingly munched rose petals from his hand.  Belle was installed in  Le jardain des plantes  where she lived for the next eighteen...

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Review:Mirette on the High Wire-Paris with children

Review:Mirette on the High Wire-Paris with children

“One evening a tall sad-faced stranger arrived.  He told Madame Gâteau he was Bellini, a retired high-wire walker.”  Imagine if you were a child living in a boarding house and someone arrived introducing themselves as “a retired high-wire walker.” They would seem like the most interesting person in the world! The next day, as Mirette is doing the laundry, she sees him walking across the laundry line.  Mirette is enchanted and asks Bellini to please teach her how to walk the high-wire.  He refuses, so she tries to learn herself.  After a lot of falling, she is ready to show Bellini what she has accomplished and after watching her efforts, he agrees to teach her.  One evening,  Bellini’s presence is noticed by a theater agent and the stories of Bellini’s great feats come out.  But Bellini has stopped walking the high wire.  He is afraid. Not wanting to disappoint Mirette, he decides to try one more act across the Paris skyline and he arranges with the agent to have a performance.  Mirette hears the commotion on the street and goes out to see the cause of the hubbub.  “Bellini stepped out onto the wire and saluted the crowd.  He took a step and then froze…”  Mirette is determined to help him, but what will she do and will it be enough? My son loved  Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully and was very excited to read it again on several subsequent nights.  We loved the changing perspectives in the illustrations. You see Mirette trying to balance from the side, looking up from the ground as if you were in the audience, looking down at Bellini as if you were on the high wire.  You couldn’t help but feel part of the story.  If you have a child working on conquering a fear, this is a great story of perseverance and the frustration on Mirette’s face as she tries to learn to walk the high wire is very easy to relate to for anyone who has struggled to learn a new skill.  If you’d like to catch a traditional circus act while you’re in Paris, try the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, a winter circus that has been performing since...

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