Kids in Museums Book Club: a Mona Lisa Double-Bill

March 11, 2016

Kids in Museums

It’s time for this month’s edition of the Kids in Museums Book Club, and once again it was #MuseumBoy who chose which book to share with you next. Or, in this case, books, because this month we have not one, but two books to share with you! The reason being that the two books share a theme and we’ve pretty much been reading them in tandem. We can’t read one without the other it seems – or maybe that’s just #MuseumBoy’s strategy to extend story time before bed. Hmmm…

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The first book is called ‘Who Stole Mona Lisa’ by Ruthie Knapp, illustrated by Jill McElmurry. It’s based on a true story, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre museum in 1911 – a “crime that shook the art world” – and not rediscovered until two years later.

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To be honest, I was a little surprised that #MuseumBoy has been so taken with this book. Actually, nothing should really surprise me where he’s concerned, he loves to throw me a curveball. But with so many other museum books to chose from that feature plenty of dinosaurs, cute animals from mice and squirrels to cats and dogs and bears, exhibits that come alive, and adventure stories of getting lost or being locked inside a museum, I was not expecting him to come back to this one so much, which is rather toned down in comparison. He’s remembered lots of facts from it too, e.g. that it took Leonardo da Vinci four years to paint her. Just the other day he asked out of the blue, on our way home from Kindergarten, “Can we read ‘Who Stole Mona Lisa’ tonight?” Though I guess the book does feature a heist!

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The book is unique in that it’s told from the perspective of the painting, i.e. Mona Lisa herself, with the museum guide at the Louvre getting a small speaking part too. The storyline follows the history of the Mona Lisa – fairly accurate with a few embellishments – of how the painting was created, stolen and recovered. And the famous smile. At the back of the book, there is also an author’s note summarising the actual events as they happened, names, dates etc. but you will see that the book has stuck pretty close to these, just in more child friendly language and adding some fun extra things such as Mona Lisa’s facial expression changing depending on what is happening to her. It’s a good read, with nice illustrations, and definitely one I’d recommend.

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Here’s what #MuseumBoy had to say about the book:

Which bit of the book do you like most?

I like that [Leonardo da Vinci] drew a robot. I like robots! Also when he threw colour [smoke] bombs and the people said “Ooh!” “Ah!” “Amazing!”

Where there any bits you don’t like?

When the thief stole Mona Lisa and put her under a cooker and she was covered in ants and spiderwebs – they can stick to the painting and then when it goes back in the museum it will be yucky!

Who Stole Mona Lisa, by Ruthie Knapp (author) and Jill McElmurry (illustrator), 2010, published by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books – available from Amazon UK*, Amazon USA and Amazon Deutschland* (in English).

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The second book – Art Dog, by Thacher Hurd – could not be more different: if features dogs, a secret identity, and some other fantastical story elements, from flying dogs to using art as a ‘weapon’ to save the day. It’s a bit off the wall, and #MuseumBoy LOVES it! Unsurprisingly. What the two books have in common is that they feature Mona Lisa – of sorts – and a heist.

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Art Dog is the secret identity of Arthur, the museum guard at the Dogopolis Museum of Art, who moonlights as a graffiti artist. In Dogopolis, everyone is a dog, including all the artists and paintings at the museum. I think the dog pun artist names such as Vincent Van Dog and Henri Muttisse were lost a little on #MuseumBoy, but since we first read this after reading ‘Who Stole Mona Lisa’, he had no difficulty recognising the Mona Woofa! One night, Mona Woofa is stolen from the museum. Art Dog is first arrested as the suspect, but he makes a fantastical escape and helps to find the real culprits. I don’t want to give too much away, as there are a couple of fun surprises when you read it the first time.

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All in all, it’s a fun if slightly whacky story, with bold, bright illustrations that match the tone of the book, and of course the fact that everyone and everything is a dog was HILARIOUS to #MuseumBoy! I also had to smile when #MuseumBoy pointed out that the thieves – who leave a fake painting in place of the real Mona Lisa when they steal her – got it wrong because “Mona Lisa should be smiling, not grinning!”. It took us full circle back to the first book (see above). Art Dog has quickly become a firm bedtime favourite. 

And here’s what #MuseumBoy had to say about the book:

Which bit of the book do you like most?

This is the cool bit!

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And I also like that we know the secret who Art Dog is but the other dogs in the book don’t.

Where there any bits you don’t like?

I don’t like when they are running [note: when the police storm in] because you are not allowed to run in a museum! Also, when the thieves let the paint drip on to the floor, because it will ruin the museum.

His last answer about the running and the paint on the floor really made me laugh – can you tell he’s a veteran museum goer? Lol.

Art Dog, by Thacher Hurd, 1996, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books – available from Amazon UK*, Amazon USA and Amazon Deutschland* (in English).

*Please note these are affiliate links, which meansyou shop via these links, I receive a small percentage of the sales.

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3 Responses to “Kids in Museums Book Club: a Mona Lisa Double-Bill”

  1. Chenay Says:

    My wee one is only 22 months, so these books are still beyond her, but I’m putting them on her amazon wishlist! Thanks for the great recommendations!


  2. Rach Winchester Says:

    Love the ideas behind these books! Id never really noticed how wide ranging the subjects of kids books were til I had my own. These are certainly bring added to T’s book list



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