Review Blog

May 16 2011

Who stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp

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Ill. by Jill McElmurry. Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 978408511580.
(Ages 7+) Picture book. Warmly recommended. The story of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 is retold in this vibrant picture book in celebration of the anniversary of its theft. Celebrate is probably the wrong word to use when dealing with the theft of such a significant painting, but the book serves to celebrate the painting itself and the artist who painted it. The book also serves to remind us of the fragility of such icons of our civilisation and their vulnerability.
The reader is invited into the gallery of the Louvre in Paris to look at the painting and hear what the guide has to say. In this way the reader is given a potted history of who the sitter was, something about Leonardo da Vinci and why the painting was executed. Some of this children may know but for younger readers, the facts are fascinating. The story of what happened after Leonardo died is even more entrancing as the painting made its way around Europe, ending up in Napoleon's bedroom. He gave the painting to the Louvre and there it became world famous with many visitors.
One visitor was Vincenzo Perugia, who firstly measured the painting before stealing it in 1911. An Italian house painter, he claimed to have stolen it to return it to Italy, but he painting languished under his stove in his flat for two years before he was caught and sent to prison.
A fascinating story told in part by the painting itself, the book will encourage an interest in this painting, which draws huge crowds to the Louvre every year. Readers will love to read of the theft and why Perugia stole the painting and what happened to it while it was missing. An astute teacher will use this book to encourage students to look more closely at this well known painting, at the painter and take a wider perspective of museums and art galleries, and perhaps other famous thefts.
Fran Knight

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