WHO WAS LEONARDO DA VINCI?
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Leonardo da Vinci is a hot topic given the popularity of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. Roberta Edwards's Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? is an introduction to the Renaissance Man for young children. Ignoring the hype spawned by Brown's best seller, Edwards focuses her attention on what was really known about da Vinci without resorting to Masonic mystery to make the incredibly talented man even more than he actually was.
Aimed at readers working at a third or fourth grade level, the text is printed in a large type with plenty of white space and illustrations so no page is overwhelming. The vocabulary is carefully selected and flows naturally. Younger readers shouldn't have to ask what any of the words Edwards uses mean. At the same time, there is no sense that Edwards was going out of her way to make the writing simplistic.
She covers da Vinci's entire life, from his birth to unmarried parents through his death 67 years later. In the meantime, she covers his entire career, not just as a famous inventor and artist, but also his upbringing and education. This means that Edwards must explain the very different educational system da Vinci went through, and she does this with ease.
Throughout the book, Edwards provides sidebar discussions of things which were a part of da Vinci's world. These usually take up a full page and are presented in a thicker type font than the main text. Edwards tackles some of da Vinci's contemporaries, such as Raphael and Michelangelo, in these discussions, as well as views of the universe, writing materials, and artistic techniques.
If Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? does have a fault, it is that it takes a laudatory look at da Vinci. Her praise of him as an artist and an inventor is unabashed, playing into the idea so many children have of good guys and bad guys, rather than presenting the world in shades of gray. While this may be the way many children view the world, by the time they are in third grade, most can understand that people can have faults and still be good.
Who Was Leonardo da Vinci? is an excellent introduction to the artist/inventor for young children. Not only does it provide a brief biography of da Vinci, but it also gives an explanation of the times in which he lived. The writing is highly accessible to the age Edwards has aimed for and presents the life story of an interesting person in an interesting way.
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