Da Vinci’s Cat

Written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

Renaissance Italy and present-day New Jersey? Different times and places that are spotlighted in this book. In Italy, Federico is a proud 11-year-old aristocrat who is a hostage to the pope, which brings him acquaintances like Michelangelo and Raphael. Federico, due to his class and his confinement, is lonely. He is delighted when a kitten emerges from a wardrobe made by Leonardo da Vinci. Soon, another unexpected visitor also emerges from the closet: a man named Herbert, from New Jersey. After a number of visits, Herbert stops visiting Federico entirely.

Enter Bee, a young girl from Brooklyn whose mother is an art dealer and whose family speaks Italian. Energetic Bee is flummoxed by a cat who keeps appearing and disappearing through a closet. When Bee herself enters this closet, she finds herself in the world of Renaissance Rome where she fast becomes Federico’s friend and ally.

As the book progresses, the plot becomes more intricate, and the stakes rise higher as Federico and Bee try to navigate the alliances and feuds of Renaissance artists in order to get them to create a work of art that will help Bee and her family in contemporary times. The back-and-forth between centuries and what this has to do with artwork can be difficult to keep track of, though the author is skilled at inserting fun chase scenes and interactions with characters.

In addition to stealthy art history mentions of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, the sometimes cruel atmosphere of Rome is described with interesting details. Haughty Federico is a difficult character to empathize with at first, but once Bee enters the story, the reader is charmed by her exuberance. The adventure is a fun way of introducing middle schoolers to art history with the help of a time-traveling cat.