Written and Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
Arthur A Levine Books, 2016
Geonardo’s workshop was built on top of his house, which was built on top of a hill at the foot of the mountains.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl inventor follows in her father’s footsteps.
Cleonardo Wren wants to be an inventor like her father (and her grandfather, Leonardo, who lives with them). While her father is busy preparing for the Grand Festival of Inventions, Cleo teams up with her grandfather to make something special of her own and creates a whirligig that can fly. But when her grandfather calls it a toy, she feels that it isn’t important enough and sets to work on a bigger project. At the festival, her father displays his new mechanical bird that actually flies through the air and everyone is impressed until it goes faulty and starts zooming toward the mayor. Cleo reacts quickly, throwing her homemade moon-shaped butterfly cage into the air, interrupting the bird’s flight. But the contraption is not enough to stop it altogether, so she tosses the whirligig into the air and it carries the bird, cage, and all safely away. Geonardo is amazed at his daughter’s invention and the two work side by side from that point on.
Although she has illustrated several picture books from other writers and is best known for her illustrations for the Harry Potter book series, this is the first time Mary GrandPré has stepped into the author role as well. The characterizations and some plot elements here were a little heavy-handed but overall, I liked it. It would certainly be a good book for girls with an interest in science or engineering, especially in the way it encourages inventors to work with the things they know and love already. It also promotes collaboration as a way to grow as an artist and inventor, which is wonderful.
The illustrations, of course, are really special, setting the story in the colors and styles of the Renaissance. Ms. GrandPré uses acrylic paint and dyes on watercolor board and rice paper collage, with lots of greens and browns that give all the pictures a sense of warmth. There are also lots of tools, wheels, cogs and other machinery in the pictures, piquing the reader’s interest in the inventions as they’re being created. The message that Cleo and her father are both better inventors when they work together is such a good way to end this story.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that collaborating with someone you respect often gives your good ideas a chance to be even greater.