Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)
Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?
In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.
The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.
The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola
In the small Italian village where Strega Nona lives, everyone is busy preparing for the holidays. They stretch from December 6th and the Feast of San Nicola to January 6th and the Feast of Epifania. This picture book looks at the various Italian feasts, focusing mostly on the Eve of Epifania where animals are said to be able to get the power of speech. So all of the people in the village made delicious food for the animals to keep them happy. However, when Big Anthony realizes that he is eating a simple meal of pasta and not the beautiful food Strega Nona has cooked for the animals, things start to go wrong. Big Anthony eats the food that was meant for the goat, so she is left with just hay and oats. Strega Nona uses her magic to send everyone dreams of food that night, but Big Anthony misses out because the goat ate his blanket and he cannot sleep. In the end, Big Anthony makes everything right again but it takes some holiday luck to make that happen.
dePaola manages to weave the feasts into the storyline deftly, creating a book that shows how some cultures have an extended holiday filled with different sorts of celebrations. The relationship between Big Anthony and Strega Nona is a large part of the success of this picture book. Their unique ways with one another adds the spice to the holiday story that it needs. There is a gentle humor about the story that works well.
As always, the illustrations are simple, humorous and completely appealing. This is the Stega Nona we have all grown to love, showing her care for her village through her cooking and magic. It is a quiet sort of Christmas book, one that shows the depth of the holiday season and speaks to more than Santa and gifts.
For families looking for a book that explores a different holiday tradition, this book will be great fun to share and informative too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Young Readers Group.