Title: Smile: The Story of the original Mona Lisa
Author: Mary Hoffman
Genre: Children’s/Teen/Educational/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Faber Factory/Barrington Stoke/Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th January 2018
Synopsis: A gorgeous historical novel following the fictional life of the young woman who would become Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest work
Renaissance Italy is a world of riches open to any man who dares to conquer it. In the life of young Lisa the doors to this world remain closed. Promised in her youth to a widower as a loving wife and mother, she is resigned to an unremarkable existence clinging only to the memory of being “Lovely Lisa” to the now great Leonardo Da Vinci. But when their paths cross again her portrait will become his masterpiece and her smile will capture the imagination of the world.
Information for Adults: This book has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paper stock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 8. It features a removable ‘super-readable’ sticker.
Reading Age: 8 Interest age: 14
One of the most famous Italian Renaissance paintings known today is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, hanging in the Musée de Louvre in Paris, and attracting millions of visitors a year. In Smile, Mary Hoffman has ficitonalised the story of Lisa Gheradini, the subject of da Vinci’s most famous and most visited painting, in a book aimed at children of all ages, but with those whose reading level and interest level don’t always align in mind. In Hoffman’s story, Lisa is first drawn by da Vinci at the age of three, and it is a portrait she has always treasured, however this likely didn’t happen in reality, but for the purposes of this story, makes for an interesting beginning and way to link the two figures together as the novel progresses.
Lisa is the oldest child in her family, and is aware that she must make a good marriage, something drummed into her by her mother since birth. Discouraged from her dreams of falling in love, Lisa is married to Francesco del Giocondo, and bears him several children over the years of their marriage. Leonardo da Vinci comes in and out of the novel, and the historical background of religious and political turmoil of Renaissance Italy and Florence weaves in and out of the novel, giving just enough context for readers to have an idea of what is going on, but also enough so that curious readers of any age and ability can explore the historical background beyond the page on their own.
It is a story that does not shy away from the difficulties Lisa faced in her marriage and society, but writes about them at an appropriate reading and interest level, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story without feeling like they can’t understand it or like it is too simple for them. For eager readers, it might be a quick read, and for those who might struggle, a good way to build on their reading skills whilst learning something new or about something they are interested in. Books like this give all children at all reading and interest levels something to read and enjoy, a good move in the book industry to encourage a love of reading, and help children find something they love to do.
A great read for any age, and a great initiative for children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities to access books they can read and will be interested in, and for others in their lives to share with them too.