Pinch Me, It’s da Vinci!

In the first ever post of this blog I review three time travel books about Leonardo da Vinci. I was going to review two books, then I found the third and couldn’t resist. But hey, since some people believe Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452-1519, was the most multitalented person OF ALL TIME, I think he deserves three books.

Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci, Jon Scieszka, (2004, 72 pages) is the 14th in the Time Warp Trio series by the famous author of Stinky Cheese Man fame. In each Time Warp story there is a magic blue notebook that whisks the three friends Joe, Sam, and Fred back to a different time and place. This is the first in the series in which Sam gets the idea to time travel to meet the inventor of the book whom he believes to be Leonardo Da Vinci.

They do meet Da Vinci and he is a friendly guy. He helps them outwit a slimy army captain who made the boys scrub toilets and who is trying to get them to join the Italian army. You don’t learn a ton about Da Vinci in this book. You do find out he lived in Italy and was an amazing painter and inventor. And that he was the artist who came up with the famous drawing of a naked guy standing inside a circle and square. (Vitruvian Man.)

In Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci there are humorous line drawings about every third page that enhance the story. The jokes are fresh, ones you haven’t read a bunch of times before. As a writer myself, I know it can be hard work to come up with original funny stuff. I wonder if Scieszka walks around being a riot all the time or has to put some sweat into it. The author is noted for his use of “boy humor”. Perhaps he developed this growing up with 5 brothers!

The sixteen books in the Time Warp series are a heap of fun. Okay, I haven’t read them all. But the three I read were a big ol’ pile of fun. So I can’t wait to read the rest. The Time Warp books are short and zip along.They are basically all plot, without much character development.

Interview of Jon Scieszka:

The Disappearing Bike Shop, Elvira Woodruff (1992, 169 pages) is also about Da Vinci. In this novel, fourth graders Tyler and his friend Freckle see a bike shop appear out of thin air in their town. The fellow who runs the shop is very strange. For a long time the boys think he’s a wizard. Actually, it takes until page 127, before they realize he’s Leonardo Da Vinci! Turns out Leonardo picked up a bike shop from 1894 and hauled it through time to these kids’ era. This strained my imagination a little bit. Couldn’t a smart guy like Leonardo figure out a way to travel light? But hey, I guess there’s no rules when it comes to time travel. At the beginning of the book Tyler and Freckle hate and are terrified by the town bully, nicknamed the Viking. Throughout the course of the book, barriers break down and the three become friends.

There is a great scene where the friends travel back to 1894 and scare some tough thugs with a common modern-day device. (I won’t give too much away here.) But sadly they are only back in time about ten minutes and it takes until page 146 to happen! Too little, too late.  Compared to the Time Warp book, the humor in this novel–references to Garfield the cat, the boys hoping the wizard doesn’t turn them into frogs, and a parrot landing on Freckles’ head- seems a little dated. I think on a Humor Meter, the arrow would be pointing to “mildly funny” on this one. And sadly, I believe the sections of the book about playing the flute, rainbows, and kissing mom goodnight decrease the coolness factor of The Disappearing Bike Shop.

It was interesting how the three boys changed, so that by the end of the book they were buddies. This was the aspect of the story I enjoyed most. I would describe the book more as a tale about friendship than a time travel adventure. If you appreciate stories about friendship you may like it. Another time travel tale I read by Elvira Woodruff,  The Orphan of Ellis Island, was more suspenseful, though.

The cover of Uh-oh, Leonardo!: The Adventures of Providence Traveler, Robert Sabuda,(2002, 48 pages), depicts Ken Henkes-like mice that could only be described as cutesy. All the characters in this book are mice but they act like people, as you might find in a picture book. The main character, Providence, finds a scrap of paper with a sketch of a mechanical wooden mouse. On the front of the mouse there is a number panel and a globe with an arrow on it. She builds the mouse based on the drawing. Just as she finishes, Providence’s brother Malcolm and their pesky neighbors the young McMuzzin twins enter her room. Before she can stop them, the twins turn a key in the back of the mouse. The four zoom through time and find themselves on a grassy hillside. The numbers on the panel say 1503, and the arrow is pointed at Italy. Providence figures out they’ve landed in the city of Florence.

The weird thing is, although this looks like a simpler book than the other two, it’s not. There is more factual information about Leonardo in this book than in the others. I liked the double page spreads The Streets of Florence, In Leonardo’s workshop, and The Feast of St. Giovanni. These were not essential to the story but provided tons of details about what folks wore, did for fun, and ate (including eel pie! Thanks, but no thanks!) in Leonardo’s time.

I was surprised that the story was harder for me to follow than the other two books reviewed. I was confused by how Providence and her friend were getting the wooden mouse all over the streets of Florence as it was bigger than them, until I figured out it could walk. A sort of robot mouse? I’m still not sure. The villain in this book is actually a bishop.  This is believable, as some of the Catholic hierarchy in Leonardo’s time were against him because he was studying the laws of science and not God’s laws. A bishop as villain might be a little harder to make sense of for some readers than the tough army guy or the town bully that were the villains in the other books.

It has full-color and full-page illustrations, and is recommended for readers who are slightly younger than the other two books, those in grades 2-4. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid most fourth grade boys might be embarrassed to be seen with this book. I am more impressed by Sabuda’s 3-D paper art.

Interview of Robert Sabuda:

Question:  What famous person from the past would you hang out with if you could time travel to his/her time?

Next post:  Trading Places–The Switching Well, by Peni Griffin, and Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer.


About Susan

I blog about middle grade and YA time travel books. I'm the author of Time Jump Coins.
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6 Responses to Pinch Me, It’s da Vinci!

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