Around a few entries in Leonardo's notebooks Konigsburg constructs the character of his young apprentice Salai and fabricates an answer to two questions. She begins, "Why, people ask, why did Leonardo da Vinci choose to paint the portrait of the second wife of an unimportant Florentine merchant? . . . Why, they ask, why?" But it's the second question, which surely fewer "people ask," that gets a fuller answer here: "Why, people ask, why did Leonardo da Vinci put up with this liar, this thief, this Salai? Why for so long?. . . Why?" In the words of Beatrice, the plain but inwardly beautiful young duchess who shares the boy's sense of fun and mischief, Salai represents the one wild element—irreverent, unserious—that the too self-conscious Leonardo needs for greatness. And when, at the very end, Mr. Giaconda brings his wife to the absent artist's studio, Salai recognizes her as that same "unimportant, importantly unserious wild thing" whose portrait would not only recall the now dead Beatrice but would also be the perfect insult to Beatrice's shallow, arrogant sister Isabella who was begging to be painted herself. The Mona Lisa then is, at least in part, Salai's revenge on a silly snob; the master himself is remote throughout the story though through his assistant's eyes we are shown a number of his projects. We also see him on occasion throw back his head and laugh at Salai's dismissal of men of learning and station—though the boy's "those guys. . ." and (of the duke) "who does he think he is" seem fresh and spunky only in contrast with the complacently polished speech employed by everyone else including the author. At this civilized midcult level Konigsburg is successful, mixing palatable art history with mildly ingenious conjecture, and she probably should not be faulted for not having a Salai of her own.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1975

ISBN: 1416903429

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1975

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves


A young child explores the unlimited potential inherent in all humans.

“Have you ever wondered why you are here?” asks the second-person narration. There is no one like you. Maybe you’re here to make a difference with your uniqueness; maybe you will speak for those who can’t or use your gifts to shine a light into the darkness. The no-frills, unrhymed narrative encourages readers to follow their hearts and tap into their limitless potential to be anything and do anything. The precisely inked and colored artwork plays with perspective from the first double-page spread, in which the child contemplates a mountain (or maybe an iceberg) in their hands. Later, they stand on a ladder to place white spots on tall, red mushrooms. The oversized flora and fauna seem to symbolize the presumptively insurmountable, reinforcing the book’s message that anything is possible. This quiet read, with its sophisticated central question, encourages children to reach for their untapped potential while reminding them it won’t be easy—they will make messes and mistakes—but the magic within can help overcome falls and failures. It’s unlikely that members of the intended audience have begun to wonder about their life’s purpose, but this life-affirming mood piece has honorable intentions. The child, accompanied by an adorable piglet and sporting overalls and a bird-beaked cap made of leaves, presents white.

More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves . (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946873-75-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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