Renato loved his home in Florence, Italy.
He loved the people there. And the food there.
But he especially loved the art there.
It was everywhere.
This is how Barbara DiLorenzo begins her beautiful book, Renato and the Lion. Through beautiful watercolor images, DiLorenzo brings Florence, Italy to life. This gorgeous book sends us back to Florence during World War II, seen through the eyes of young Renato, who not only loves his homes, but especially loves the art work found throughout the magnificent city.
Renato’s father works at an art museum. As soldiers start to take over the city, men like Renato’s father encase famous sculptures in brick to protect them from damage. Renato’s favorite sculpture is a lion in the Piazza della Signoria who he desperately wants to protect. The lion weaves into Renato’s dreams and in the end, he does manage to help save the sculpture.
Finally, by the end of the book, young Renato has grown up and his own granddaughter has a special relationship of her own with the lions at the New York Public Library. That encourages him to tell her his story and together they venture to Florence to check up on Renato’s lion.
There were many really special pieces of this book. The first is of course the art. My older daughter has been studying the Renaissance and the art that was produced during that time, so seeing representations of those pieces and how they were protected made what she is learning that much more real.
In addition to this being a great presentation of Italian art, the story touches on the many lives that were impacted by fighting done during WWII. We often forget that people who lived throughout Europe were impacted by the fighting. More stories are coming out about how British children living in London were sent out to the country for safety. Those being persecuted in countries tried to escape and those who just wanted to get away from the fighting also found new homes. My father-in-law’s family actually fled Italy themselves during this time. Many don’t think about that aspect of war, but it is a truth to what people experience.
Finally, books that highlight the special relationship between generations are few and far between. DiLorenzo added a wonderful touch by bringing in Renato’s granddaughter and having her own connections with lion statues spark his memory and retelling. We learn so much of our world and our history by intergenerational relationships. This book provides a wonderful entryway to having conversations with family members about how they emigrated to the United States or to learn about your family history.
Both of my daughters really liked this book. It is hard to put your finger on exactly why, but there was a sweetness to the telling that allowed readers of multiple ages to get something out it. Since we have a family connection to Italy, there was that part of the book that they enjoyed being able to see the land their family is from.
Renato and the Lion felt different than a lot of the picture books I’ve been seeing lately. There was a classic timelessness to this story that I think makes it one for everyone to enjoy.