RENATO AND THE LION: A Picture Book of Art and War

Lynn: It was the gorgeous cover depicting Il Duomo on Barbara DiLorenzo’s picture book, Renato and the Lion (2017), that first captured my attention. Although no one who has visited Florence will be able to resist grabbing this book, the boy perched on the ghostly lion on the cover was what attracted the six-year-old member of our focus group and drew him into the story.

And what a story! When the Germans invaded during World War II, the people of Florence worried about their priceless sculptures. They encased statuary in brick, hoping to conceal and protect the art from bombing and warfare. DiLorenzo uses a fictional boy to frame this gripping historical event, bringing it to life for young readers. The small protagonist is the son of a museum curator who works to protect the sculpture before evacuating from the city. The boy’s favorite sculpture is a stone lion in Piazza della Signoria. Worried that the lion is vulnerable, he sneaks out on his last night there to build a brick wall around it. Then, the lion comes to life and takes the sleepy boy on a midnight tour of the city. Years later, he returns to Florence with his granddaughter, falling in love with the beautiful city and its treasures once more.

Renato and the Lion by Barbara Di LorenzoThis is a tender and moving story, as well as a heartening one. Our focus group member loved the tale of the stone lion coming to life and making his quiet journey through the night. The story leads naturally to discussion about imagination and fact, about story and information, and about the impact of war on a city and its people. These are big ideas for small people, but they follow easily from this captivating and entertaining book.

I’ll let Cindy talk about the stunning illustrations, but I have to say I’d love to frame them—choosing just one would be nearly impossible! I adore the end pages, but I also love a view down a narrow street with the Duomo jumping into view. Anyone who has walked around Florence will remember that startling but wondrous experience.

Cindy: I visited Florence two summers ago, and I can still clearly see the sculpture and the sights. DiLorenzo perfectly evokes my memories with her muted watercolors.  I felt like I was back in that magical place while reading this story.

Lynn is right: Young children will agree with Renato that the lion sculpture is special, and they will enjoy his ride through the city on its back. This is a quiet, thoughtful book, well suited to its serious subject. As we worry about the art and the efforts to protect it, we can’t help but also worry about all of the children and adults who live each day under the threat and dangers of war in their own cities. Don’t miss this visit to one of the world’s most artistic cities in a story that pays tribute to the intrinsic power of art and the losses of war.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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