What Isabella Wanted

Candace Fleming, illus. by Matthew Cordell. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4263-8
Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924) assembled an idiosyncratic collection of artworks over her lifetime. In the palazzo she built to house it, priceless treasures still hang next to souvenirs and personal mementoes—in this picture book biography’s refrain, “exactly as Isabella wanted.” The story begins with a trip abroad, where an adult Gardner determined to possess the works she loved, to her building of the Boston “museum home,” and to the 1990 theft, well after her death, of 13 important works—a crime that remains a mystery today. Cordell’s loose, humorous line gives Gardner a flamboyant feel, while images of her home reflect what back matter calls its “glorious jumble.” Fleming is candid about Gardner’s faults: smuggling art out of its country of origin (“cultural raiding,” the afterword notes) and following around visitors to her home saying, “Don’t touch!” In a picture book that’s as much about a place as a figure, this story of treasure gained and lost offers a fascinating look at one person’s whims made reality. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/08/2021
Release date: 09/07/2021
Genre: Children's
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