6/1/21

Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, for Timeslip Tuesday


Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (May 25th 2021, Greenwillow Books), is a real treat for those of us who love time travel, cats, and the splendors and intrigues of Renaissance Italy!

Frederico is just an ordinary boy in 16th-century Rome (he's not extraordinary among heirs to wealthy and powerful noble families, and it's not that odd for a kid be held as a hostage by the Pope to keep those families in check).  But his life becomes most extraordinary when a cat comes out of a large and strangely decorated wooden wardrobe.  Frederico is lonely--games of checkers with the Pope, chats with Raphael, busy and distracted by his art, and annoying tutors are the extent of his social life--and he welcomes the companionship of the cat.  

The strange man coming out of the wardrobe soon after is at first less welcome.  Herbert has arrived a strange place, New Jersey, far in the future, and offers chocolate, peanuts, and conversation (all welcomed) and all he wants from Frederico are sketches by the resident artists (as well as Raphael, Michelangelo is there, busily painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Turns out the wardrobe was made by Leonardo Da Vinci, and Herbert is taking advantage of it to collect art to sell in the 21st century.

Herbert desperately wants Frederico to help him get Raphael to sign a sketch for him to take home....but things get complicated, and Herbert's visits stop. Instead, a 21st century girl arrives through the wardrobe instead.  Bee has found herself tangled in Herbert's unfinished business....and she needs Frederico's help if she is going to finally get the Raphael sketch signed.  

And so a lovely cross-culture exchange happens, with Frederico moving from hostility and suspicion to friendship, and Bee moves from babbling about Narnia to accepting she's 500 years in the past....But the sketch signing becomes more complicated than expected, and one thing leads to another until Michelangelo's completion of the Sistine Chapel, and Frederico's own life, are in danger...

I really enjoyed this one lots. Not one, perhaps, for lovers of wild excitement, though there was tension throughout, mounting toward the end.   As well as checking the basic boxes of my personal taste--Renaissance Italy, art, cat, friendship, and of course time travel, it's a very character rich story, rich as well in descriptions of beautiful and interesting things, the sort of story which I personally like more than wild adventures.  I also liked Bee very much and really enjoyed her interactions with "Fred." 

It's neat time travel too, not explained much but given a magical credibility by the Da Vinci having made the wardrobe.  Mostly we see Frederico's time through Bee's eyes, which was very relatable, but his reactions to the strangeness of her came up a lot too, and were often amusing.  

And it has the added bonus of being educational--I myself learned more history through reading children's books than I ever did in school, and this one would have filled a gap very nicely indeed (I can't remember any fiction about the Italian Renaissance from when I was kid (1970s, early 80s....)

(side note, for those looking for normalization of same sex parents--Bee has two great moms.  Frederico's reaction--which one had the larger dowry?).


5 comments:

  1. This does sound lovely! I wonder if Murdock was inspired by Lloyd Alexander's "Time Cat" at all, which memorably includes a visit to Leonardo (and a cat, of course).

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  2. Which one has the larger dowry. Ha! That's funny. This sounds terrific. It's interesting that the main character is not the time traveler, but is impacted by those traveling. It's a fun time period to read about. I will try to pick this one up. Thanks for the review.

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  4. I really liked her Dairy Queen trilogy and this sounds very appealing in a completely different way, especially for a Renaissance History and Lit major like me!

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