In this adventure for middle-grade readers, a young girl regains her self-confidence and discovers the power of knowledge when she travels back in time to visit great artists of the past.
Sixth-grader Lucy Nightingale blanks out in class one day and finds that she’s lost the “confident part of herself, the Lucy who loved school, the Lucy who could give wonderful oral reports and got A’s.” The following morning, a strange new teacher named Arabella Lang asks Lucy to write a report on what Botticelli’s “Primavera,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, Pontormo’s “Four Women,” and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” say about the artists themselves. Lucy calls upon the Wise Ones, “magic beings who listen for children’s wishes,” for help. A response comes in the form of a bespectacled, endearing, talking corgi dog named Wilbur, who serves as her guide for a time-traveling journey involving crystals, synchronized “wavelengths,” and a gadget called the Navigator. First up is Botticelli’s studio; there, Lucy says of one work, “It’s a wonderful painting. I’m sure lots of people will want to buy it.” (In an apparent oversight, she repeats this phrase four pages later, referring to another painting.) Later, she and Wilbur view “grumpy” Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in progress, and they visit Leonardo’s studio, which is filled with his inventions. The reclusive Pontormo’s “Four Women” makes Lucy catch her breath: “You see bigness and bright color in the world,” she tells him. She also encounters Van Gogh in his St. Remy asylum; Lodge portrays him with affecting sensitivity. Throughout this entertaining, fantastical debut, the author brings the artists and their paintings to life with resonant, informed vignettes. Each funny or soulful encounter gives Lucy opportunities to realize that she’s also an original, smart thinker. Lodge also shows Lucy taking on challenges, such as when the Navigator and Wilbur succumb to a virus; as a result, the faulty instrument lands the travelers in the path of Hannibal and his war elephants and takes them to an Egyptian pyramid and inside Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” where “Vincent’s crashing sky rose up like a sea monster.” In the end, Lucy is ready for class, thanks to all the insights she’s gained from her adventures.
A vividly written work of juvenile fiction that mixes fantasy and suspense with messages of empowerment, history, art, and science.