"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, February 15, 2024

YA/MG Nonfiction Review: THE MONA LISA VANISHES (Plus: Friday56 Sign-in)

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Opening quote from the first section: "A Star is Born: in which the Mona Lisa is painted, is stolen, and becomes an absolute legend."
Imagine a Palazzo -- a magnificent Renaissance building. It's Florence, 1503. There are a lot of palazzos around. Pick a good one. Now imagine a man: handsome, charming, gentle. Make him a painter. Imagine a woman: intriguing, unknown, beautiful. Make her a model. Do you see them? Neither of them should be there.

Friday56 quote: 

There is an eerie coincidence at work here. At the same time Leonardo receives this commission, a baby girl is born a short walk away. She is baptized Lisa Gherardini. She will become the Mona Lisa. She will change Leonardo's life. 


On a hot August day in Paris over 100 years ago, a desperate guard burst into the office of the director of the Louvre and shouted, "La Joconde, c'est partie!" "THE MONA LISA. SHE'S GONE!" Was it a spectacular joke or true? This is the wild improbable story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen and became the most famous painting in the world. (Book jacket)

In the pages of this YA/MG nonfiction book readers learn about the life and career of Leonardo Da Vinci, the birth and life of Lisa Gherardini, the model for the Mona Lisa, and the heist of the famous painting in the early 1900s which brought the painting and its artist to greater fame than had it remained safely in the Louvre in Paris the whole time.


Back in 1979 I visited the Louvre on a hot day in June. My friend and I had to stand in line to enter the famed museum in the heart of Paris. We had no internet in those days and so knew only what the guidebooks told us to do: enter, walk this way and that way in order to see the Mona Lisa. Well, we did it. We saw the Mona Lisa and I remember feeling underwhelmed. The painting was much smaller than I expected and, since the crowds were pressing in on all sides, we couldn't linger over the painting to appreciate all the fine details created by the famed artist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Little did I know about the painting's history either. I had no idea that the painting had been stolen from the Louvre on August 21, 1911, and was not recovered for another five years. I had no idea that the investigators thought it was the work of a criminal mastermind and so they overlooked the common man who actually stole the painting. In fact, I had no idea why the famed painting was in France in the first place, since the artist was Italian.

Well, I learned all these details by reading this marvelous YA/MG book, The Mona Lisa Vanishes, by Nicholas Day. The book is "written at the pace of a thriller, and shot through with stories of crime and celebrity, genius, and beauty." It is a propulsive, twisting work of narrative nonfiction.

I learned about the book when it was nominated as a Cybils nonfiction finalist in the middle grades category. When I attempted to get a copy from my library system, I was thrilled to see that it had thirteen copies on file but all of them were checked out and I had to wait a month for my turn at the physical copy. What? Waiting for a MG nonfiction book? Isn't that unheard of? What does that say about it -- The Mona Lisa is so famous she is even an attractive subject to young readers! Amazing.

The book is illustrated, but not in a children's book sort of way, just one that makes the text even more inviting to young teen/preteen readers:

Sample illustration from the book The Mona Lisa Vanishes illustrated by Brett Helquist

I drank this book down in big gulps and enjoyed every moment of my reading experience. The author uses humor as a way to invite his readers to join him on this romp through history. 

This book won the Cybils Middle Grade Nonfiction Award, announced on Feb. 14th! Whether this book wins the 2023 Cybils for MG Nonfiction or not, read it! And leave it lying around the house so your kids will want to read it, too!

Sign up for The Friday56 on the Inlinkz below. 

As many of you know Freda over at Freda's Voice hosted #Friday56 for many years. On September 7th she told us she was going through some personal stuff and could no longer host. I've attempted to reach her but have had no reply. So I will host The Friday56 until she comes back. Help me communicate with past participants so they can figure out where and how to find me, please post this post's URL on your blog. Thanks.

Also visit Book Beginnings on Friday hosted by Rose City Reader and First Line Friday hosted by Reading is My Super Power to share the beginning quote from your book.


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