Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Stolen Smile

The Stolen Smile

J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrator:  Gary Kelley 
Picture Book
For ages 7 to and up
The Creative Company, 2004   ISBN: 978-1568461922

It all began one August evening in 1911. I was hiding in the Louvre Museum in Paris waiting for the right moment. When all was quiet and when the guard left his post for a short time, I came out of my hiding place and took the painting down from the wall, took it out of its frame, and put it in my bag. “Viva Leonardo!” I had done something for the great painter and for my country in just that one moment.

Of course they combed Paris looking for the Mona Lisa. Police and investigators looked everywhere and I watched and listened and laughed. And I waited. I kept the Mona Lisa in my tiny Paris garret room for two whole years waiting. Then, when I felt enough time had passed I took the Mona Lisa back to Italy where she belonged. I offered to sell her for a mere pittance to an art dealer and imagine my surprise when he and his friend, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, promptly turned me over to the authorities. Imagine my distress when I heard the director tell me that the painting belonged to the French after all because the great Leonardo da Vinci had sold it to the King of France.

So, it would seem all my efforts were for nothing. “La Giaconda” is back in France and I am in prison serving my seven months sentence. Still, I have that magical face to remember and to think about.

Narrated from the point of view of the man who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911, this picture book is based on the true story of one of the most famous art thefts of all time. Determined to return the Mona Lisa to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthplace, an Italian called Vincenzo Perugia who had done some work in the Louvre, successfully stole the Mona Lisa and did manage to get it back to Italy. It was returned to France in January of 1914 where it has remained ever since. Superbly written, this story not only describes a sensational art theft, but it also provides the reader with a picture of the art world and shows the reader how emotional people can get about pieces if art. End notes at the back of the book provide further information about some of the people and the places mentioned in the book.