What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  The story begins and ends with the empty picture frames hanging in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum following the 1990 robbery of thirteen works of art worth $500 million.  In between, the reader learns of the eccentric Isabella who knew exactly what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to do what she needed to do to get it–even if it meant breaking some laws to obtain European and Asian artworks.  She built the museum herself, living on the top floor and displaying the art on the other three.  When it was done, she opened it to the public twenty days a year for more than twenty years.  Today, the museum is still a highlight to visit in Boston.  Includes an extensive author’s note with more information about Isabella (including her unethical collection practices) and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The lively free verse text and illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell bring Isabella and her museum to life and pose intriguing questions about the art theft.

Cons:  This is another New England Book Award finalist (the winner was Keepunumuk by Danielle Greendeer in case you’re interested) and may not be of as much interest to those living outside of New England.

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