Perfect Picture Book Friday: Neo Leo

Author/Illustrator: Gene Barretta
Publication Info: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Company, 2009
Intended audience: Ages 7 and up (though my five-year-old loves it)
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: science, inventions, biography, history
Opening and synopsis: ”Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by the world around him. He studied animals and people. He watched plants grow and birds fly. He explored mighty rivers. Nature was his teacher. It inspired his remarkable studies and inventions.”
Think airplanes, artificial hearts, tanks and contact lenses are “neo”? Think again. These inventions are so “Leo.”  Inventor Leonardo da Vinci dreamed up and described the concepts years before they came to fruition in modern times. Barretta’s wonderful book describes 15 modern inventions with da Vinci origins, displaying the inventor’s sheer genius.
Why I like this book: Da Vinci is such an inspiring figure, who couldn’t love a book chronicling his achievements? Still, Barretta adds a twist: each invention includes notes in the mirror writing that da Vinci perfected. Children have to hold up the book to a mirror to read the notes and learn more. Barretta also includes a bibliography of books, Web sites and DVDs for further reading.
Resources: Since I took a Renaissance art history class eons ago, we looked at some of da Vinci’s artwork in my old textbooks. The Museum of Science has a fantastic Leonard da Vinci page aimed at parents and teachers….here. TeachersPayTeachers has a FREE downloadable lesson about Leonardo and the Wright Brothers available...here.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
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40 responses to “Perfect Picture Book Friday: Neo Leo

  1. I haven’t heard of this one Kirsten. I try to get all the pbs on famous artist when I can. It’s on my list, thanks! (That’s interesting about the mirror image writing)

  2. This book sounds terrific, Kirsten! I love the mirror writing aspect – such fun! I look forward to seeing what you post every week because you add such wonderful non-fiction titles to our list! I don’t know if it’s a gender thing, but my son loves non-fiction, so i think other boys may too, and I’m glad to have choices available on the list that will appeal to all readers 🙂

    • I think our nonfiction bent began with my older son’s interest in Mars and space. We read everything the library had. Now I try to pick up titles related to fun things we are working on at home.

  3. Haven’t heard of this one and I am a huge Da Vinci fan. I LOVE the title! This is a great choice, Kirsten!

  4. What a great book. Who doesn’t love Da Vinci’s work? This book will teach me a few things. What a great addition. I had no idea about this book. Thanks so much! 🙂

  5. I love DaVinci and have been aware of some of his inventions. Have not heard of this book, and want to read it. There was a children’s movie “Ever After,” with Drew Barrymore that highlighted many of Da Vinci’s inventions, as well as artwork. The book made me think of the movie and his portrayal as an inquisitive, quirky, wise and humble man. Must get this book.

  6. Great review! I do love books like this. I like the mirror writing – my kids will love that. Thanks for introducing this book to PPBF.

  7. Hi there Kirsten, I am always on the lookout for picture books with artists/musicians as main themes – I have a weakness for picture book biographies – or even just snapshots of eminent persons’ lives. This sounds like one of those books. Will definitely look for this one.

  8. Would have loved this book as a kid. I was so into Da Vinci. I also did a paper on him way back when! Thankyou for bringing it to my attention. Will look out for it. Thanks Kirsten

  9. Awesome! I have to get that book for my boys! I was fascinated by da Vinci when I was in college– I spent many fine hours examining and reexamining the sketches in a reproduction of his notebooks that I had. I was most intrigues by this series of studies that he did of the way that water trickles down a creek, over various rocks and obstacles. His attempts to capture the movement of water led directly into a series of drawings of the twisting lightness of human hair. Apparently he saw the two as connected, and was convinced that if he could master the depiction of water, he would also be able to depict realistically light and rippling human hair. The mind that can make such acute and poignant connections is one that we should all attempt to emulate!

    • It is amazing how his observations of nature influenced his artwork and his scientific study. I recently saw a PBS special about his “La Bella Principessa.” It was fascinating, and now the book is on my “to read” list.

    • I thought it was you who originally suggested it, but I wasn’t 100% sure. Thanks for your fantastic recommendation. Incidentally, Baretta has an Edison book coming out this summer.

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