Steal Back The Mona Lisa!, by Meghan McCarthy
The other books I have read by this author are historical books and this one is clearly not, although it should be noted that the author at least based the adventure on a historical incident where the Mona Lisa was stolen by someone who was hoping to return it back to its home in Italy. As usual, though, the author manages to combine some really cute animation (this one dealing with a brave kid whose adventures have a blithe disregard for logistical realities) with a compelling story that young readers should enjoy. Even as someone who is at best young at heart I found a great deal to enjoy about this book. It was certainly a fun read, and if it is not a deep sort of book it is one that many readers will be able to appreciate if they are the kind of reader who wants to insert themselves into a caper involving art theft. The Mona Lisa is a famous enough painting that it it draws the attention of even casual art lovers, and casual art lovers (and those more serious about art) will likely enjoy the author’s drawings as well.
The story of the book itself is a straightforward one. The author imagines some thieves have stolen the Mona Lisa, and a brave boy is informed in his sleep, travels in a car that he can’t drive (perhaps it can drive itself, or he is being too modest about his skills), flies to Europe, is waylaid by poison, has a bunch of gadgets, and escapes certain death with sharks before surprising the criminals who want to deface the Mona Lisa drawing. The end result is a humorous ending where the hero, Jack, ends up back in his bed, albeit with some small alterations to his look that may require explanation. The story is lighthearted, painted mostly in grayscale to allow for the darkness of the plot to carry the drawings, and makes light of some of the aspects of stereotypical European culture. Whether we are looking at the spycraft of Russia or funny mustaches, there is a lot to appreciate here in the artwork, and it is comical that the Mona Lisa would even be threatened with such a treatment even by the most lunkheaded of art thieves given the fact that there is little value to be found in defacing famous artwork unless one’s motives are destructive in nature.
This is the sort of book that works best the less you think about it. The author clearly doesn’t want the reader to dwell on the logistics of a child getting out of bed, driving some distance, catching a flight across the ocean, parachuting into Moscow, getting poisoned, kidnapped and nearly fed to sharks, disarming a group of art thieves and returning a stolen painting into the Louvre and returning home quickly enough to avoid detection. Clearly, if someone could do all of these things they would be a superhero at any age, much less childhood. That said, this is a story that is easy to enjoy if you take it with a sense of lightheartedness as a silly but fun caper that has its inspiration in actual history. Children have a love of adventures, and this sort of adventure, which pokes fun of the cliches of entertainment that children are likely to be familiar with, is just the sort of fun that many people would like to have in their imagination, and without being so realistic that people would actually try to do these things. The author even manages to make some subtle points about the limitations of gadgets to the proper situations.