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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Author: Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is a very prolific writer of children's and young adult books. As I've been devouring a lot of YA books lately, and have read a few of hers I wanted to put a little spotlight on her today! My most recent read of Napoli's was The Smile, pretty obviously from the cover picture a story about the Mona Lisa. This story centers around the early life of Elisabetta, as she learns some hard truths about life and love. Her family has a silk farm out in the country, and with her best friend Silvia, a servant for her household, she works and dreams of their lives ahead. She would never guess that she would catch the eye of Giuliano de'Medici. It seems the match would be perfect, but then a priest by the name of Savonarola begins wreaking havoc in the city, and the Medici family must flee. Elisabetta believes that Giuliano will come back for her, but she is still a young girl, and her father has other plans for her. The Mona Lisa painting happens in this book after Elisabetta is older, married and with her own children, where her smile captures all the lessons, good and bad that life has taught her.

I seem be drawn by Italian history lately, and in addition to The Smile I very much enjoyed Daughter of Venice. Donata is one of 12 children, whose future likely lies in a convent, as only one son and one daughter will marry. Donata chafes at the life she has, wanting to be free to explore, she knows there has to be more than what lies inside their palazzo, and is not content to look out from the inside. Sneaking out disguised, Donata finds herself in the Jewish Ghetto in the city, and is befriended by Noe, who thinks she a boy. After many visits to Noe, working in his copywriting shop making flyers, Donata finds herself falling in love with him, as they've gotten to know each other better. Then the unthinkable happens, more than one daughter will be betrothed and the family chose Donata! Though unbelievable good fortune for the family, it seems a disaster to Donata, and she takes extreme steps to try and avoid it. She does not want to be a wife and mother, she wants to explore and learn! Like The Smile, I felt that Napoli has done an excellent job of bringing Italy to life, she's very descriptive and informative while telling the stories.

In addition to historical fiction, Napoli has done quite a few fairy tale retellings that have interesting twists. My favorite of these so far has been Beast, her version of Beauty and the Beast. I have also read Spinners about Rumpelstiltskin, The Magic Circle about Hansel and Gretel, and Sirena told from the point of view of a young siren who falls in love with a sailor that survived the wrecking of his ship on the way to the Trojan War. I'm excited to already have my next Napoli read in Mount TBR, and this one will be The Great God Pan, which I'm really looking forward to!

Check out a list of all Donna Jo Napoli's novels HERE at, and also the author's website. I highly recommend her!

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