Review of A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity

A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
by Nicholas Day; illus. by Brett Helquist
Intermediate, Middle School    Random House Studio/Random    288 pp.
9/23    9780593643846    $19.99
Library ed.  9780593643853    $22.99
e-book ed.  9780593643860    $11.99

The Mona Lisa wasn’t the world’s most famous painting when it disappeared from the Louvre in 1911. Day starts his narrative at the point of the theft, then jumps forward and backward, tracing Leonardo da Vinci’s career, what (little) is known about the painting’s subject, how the Mona Lisa became a pop culture icon, and its whereabouts today. In between the story’s many diversions (e.g., early forensic science, the media’s role in hyping the theft), readers also follow the path of the painting away from the museum and into the pages of history, which Day delivers with a dose of whimsy as he describes a case that had more than its share of ridiculous moments. The book combines age-appropriate true crime with art history and historiography. The nonlinear structure may take some getting used to, but it serves the book’s goal of drawing parallels between elements of the theft and the Mona Lisa’s current place in our culture. Helquist’s cartoonlike black-and-white illustrations do an excellent job of matching the narrative voice and bringing the book’s dramatic moments to life. A lengthy source list is appended.

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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