cover image Leonardo, the Beautiful Dreamer

Leonardo, the Beautiful Dreamer

Robert Byrd. Dutton Books, $17.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-525-47033-5

Byrd (Finn McCoul and His Fearless Wife) notes that the French king Francis I once said he did not believe ""that any other mind had ever been born into the world who knew so much as Leonardo."" Few could disagree after reading this staggeringly thorough-and eminently readable-picture-book compendium of Leonardo da Vinci's prescient insights and inventions. Strategically organized, illustrated with intricately informative art, Byrd's titled spreads-such as ""The Smiling Lady"" (about the Mona Lisa) and ""Muscle and Marvelous Machines""-provide self-contained, almost encyclopedic coverage of Leonardo's life and work. Although the main narrative runs long, sidebars packed with well-chosen anecdotes, quotations and small panel illustrations should hold those with shorter attention spans. Byrd explains Leonardo's theories clearly and simply, while also revealing the man behind them. Readers will enjoy hints of Leonardo's roguishness: he described Michelangelo's sculptures as ""bags of nuts"" and he would inflate a sheep's intestine with a bellows ""until it filled the room like a giant balloon and flattened people against the walls."" The skillful use of color schemes, patterned borders and typefaces tames the flow of ideas, and vigorous, lighthearted ink-and-watercolor illustrations both reflect Leonardo's vitality and intelligently explicate his countless inventions. Whether readers absorb this handsomely oversize book from cover to cover or a just few sidebars at a time, they will almost certainly find exquisite inspiration. Ages 7-10. (July)