Book: Leonardo da Vinci
Author and Illustrator: Diane Stanley
Publisher: HarperCollins, reprinted in 2000
ISBN-13: 978-0688104375 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0688104371 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0688161552 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0688161553 Paperback
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9-12
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Stanley, Diane. Leonardo da Vinci (published in 1996 by Morrow Junior Books, a division of William Morrow and Company Inc.,1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10019; republished in 1999 by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Leonardo da Vinci was born in the village of Vinci near Florence, Italy, on Saturday, April 15, 1452, to Ser Piero da Vinci, a country gentleman and notary, and a peasant woman named Caterina. Apprenticed as a boy to the famous artist Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence, he quickly became more skillful than his teacher. One of the most amazing people who ever lived, he grew up to be a great painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist, and inventor, although he had a bad habit of not finishing projects. Moving to Milan, he worked for Duke Ludovico Sforza. When Milan was captured by the French, Leonardo wandered around, travelling to Mantua, to Venice, back to Florence, where he worked for Cesare Borgia along with Niccolo Machiavelli, to Rome to work for the pope, and finally to France to work for King Francis I, where he died on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67.
Award-winning author and artist Diane Stanley blends wonderful storytelling with vibrant illustrations to provide a wonderful introduction for young people to the original “Renaissance man,’ whose inventions include a submarine, an air-cooling system, “glasses to see the moon large,” and even a flying machine, following his life from birth to death. The book was a 1996 ALA Notable Book, a 1996 Publishers Weekly Best Books Award winner, a 1997 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book for Nonfiction, and a 1997 Orbis Pictus Award winner. One source gives the age range as 4 – 8 years, and another as 7 and up, but the book is a little lengthy for a younger child to read, so older children, say ages 9-12, will likely better appreciate the wealth of information in this fascinating biography. I will add a couple of caveats that parents may want to note. First, it seems that a great deal of emphasis is placed on Leonardo’s having been born illegitimately. Of course, that is a fact of history.
Second, I was a little disturbed by how the author begins. “Leonardo da Vinci lived in exciting times. A thousand years had passed since the Roman Empire fell, a thousand years in which the people of Europe tended their farms, went to war, guided every act by a deep religious faith….Then, at about the time Leonardo was born, things began to change. Faith and tradition gave way to learning and curiosity.” The implication seems to be that faith stands in opposition to learning and curiosity. Yet, she fails to note that some of the examples that she cites of this new spirit of learning and curiosity, such as Christopher Columbus, Johann Gutenberg, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Michelangelo Buonarroti, were all guided by a deep religious faith in what they accomplished. At the same time, it is noted of Leonardo that, “Though he was not a religious man, he wrote that the more he studied the body, the more he was struck by thoughts of God, ‘who creates nothing superfluous or imperfect.’” All in all, it is an interesting book.