Review of What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum

What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum
by Candace Fleming; illus. by Matthew Cordell
Primary, Intermediate    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-8234-4263-8    $18.99

Just across the street from the Horn Book office sits the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, whose story is at least as interesting as its idiosyncratic collection. Cannily, Fleming (Honeybee, rev. 3/20; Cubs in the Tub, rev. 9/20) and Cordell (Hello, Neighbor!, rev. 5/20; Bear Island, rev. 3/21) begin this picture-book biography with a mystery: “On a tree-lined street in Boston, in an old mansion, at the top of the stairs, in a second-floor room, empty frames hang, waiting…” Throughout, author and illustrator find just those details about Gardner (“who wore baseball gear to the symphony”), her unusual museum (where she would follow visitors around, shouting “Don’t touch! Don’t touch!”), and the famous theft (“Private detectives searched. They are still searching”) that will engage readers who might have otherwise found the subject stuffy. The text is clipped and clear; the line and watercolor illustrations have a raffish edge that suits the boho Isabella. Preceding an appended bibliography and source notes, a comprehensive endnote mentions both Gardner’s sometimes unscrupulous acquisition methods and the ten-million-dollar reward still on offer for solving the 1990 robbery.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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