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The Life and Travels of da Vinci Series Review by Kirsten West

Leonardo the Florentine (The Life and Travels of Da Vinci Book 1)
Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan (The Life and Travels of Da Vinci Book 2)
Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond (The Life and Travels of Da Vinci Book 3)
Leonardo: A Return to Florence (The Life and Travels of Da Vinci Book 4)
Leonardo: A Return to Painting (The Life and Travels of Da Vinci Book 5)
Catherine McGrew Jamie

This is a set of stories that bring the life of Leonardo da Vinci to life for the entire homeschooling family. The books are appropriate for any age child as well as interesting enough to hold the attention of teenagers and adults. The author begins the series with Leonardo da Vinci’s life as he leaves home to apprentice at age 15.

The story consists of five volumes chronicling the life and times surrounding Leonardo da Vinci’s experiences. The first book, entitled Leonardo the Florentine, begins the story with a 15-year-old Leonardo entering into an apprenticeship with Master Verrocchio to learn more art and sculpture and metalworking. After he settles in, Leonardo makes friends with the son of the local ruling family (Lorenzo de Medici) and discovers a plot that could turn his world upside down unless he speaks out.

The five volumes take us through Leonardo da Vinci’s life in Florence, Milan, Romangna, and Rome. Readers get a front-row seat as Leonardo learns the art trade, explores languages and math and engineering and science, becomes a military advisor to one of the most ruthless leaders of his time, and finally meets the pope.

The series is filled with adventure and intrigue. The characters are real, the settings vividly described, and I have not seen a better living history of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. At the end of each book, the author provides a note detailing the aspects of the story based on firm evidence and those areas she took license in order to create the story. There is also a block-printed map of the city in which Leonardo was living for each of the five books.

The author brings the characters of Leonardo’s life into your living room so that your entire family can live the adventure together. As we read through the chapters of Leonardo’s life, my kids would remark on the historical figures they already knew. My son stopped me about three chapters into the first volume to ask, “Is this a true story?”

“Yes, of course it is, now stop interrupting,” remarked his twin sister.

“But,” my son continued, “how did the author know that Leonardo said those things to the boys when they were playing in the Pitti Palace before he found the secret hidden note?” My son is a teenager, yet the writing in these stories is so good and the story draws you into the world of Leonardo so completely that you find yourself wanting to stay. And even teenagers forget that this story is history written as a living book.

You could easily read this book to your whole family. Your older children will recognize the place names and historical events and be enchanted by the depth and color that these books give to Italy toward the end of the Renaissance. Your young ones will love the engaging dialog and vivid descriptions that will provide an anchor to learning the history of the Renaissance when they are older. The writing is approachable to a middle-ages reader so you could also give your children the books to read on their own. No matter how you use these stories, they will enhance your homeschool.

The author, Catherine Jaime, is a homeschooling parent and an author of many, many books that span subjects from economics to Shakespeare to history. She spent more than 10 years studying and teaching about the life of Leonardo da Vinci before writing these books, and her subject expertise, worldview, and homeschooling background combined to make a fantastic set of living history books covering the life of Leonardo da Vinci. You could easily use these books as the central framework to study the late Renaissance, use it as a supplemental set of stories to enhance a different history curriculum, or use it as a way to refresh the events and history in your teenagers’ minds.

We read these books as part of our history and art curriculum as a way to refresh the history of the late Renaissance. My children are teenagers, and we homeschool using a combination of classical and Charlotte Mason methods; so my children already knew the basic history of Renaissance Italy and also knew the works of Leonardo da Vinci. This set of living books, however, gave my children a window into Leonardo’s life that was unique and colorful. For us, the books were a way to review the history and art and cement them forever in the minds of my children using stories full of adventure and mystery.

No matter how you homeschool your children, these stories will engage them. No matter how old your children are, they will love the adventure and the mystery. And no matter how your children experience these stories—sitting on the living room floor drawing as you read aloud or reading to themselves in a quiet room—they will remember this wonderful historical account of the life of Leonardo da Vinci.

-Product review by Kirsten West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2017