Young Leonardo depicts the life of artist and thinker Leonardo da Vinci during his childhood, prior to beginning his formal art study under Andrea del Verrocchio. The plot is episodic, moving through a series of short vignettes of experiences in the young artist’s life.

While it may be impossible to document da Vinci’s childhood years with total certainty, the episodes are based on information from his many notebooks. Quotations from the artist are interspersed throughout the book. Through the series of lighthearted comics, we see Leonardo’s beginnings in art, as well as his curiosity about the world around him which manifested in inventions, scientific discoveries, and constant observation. Other character traits are also highlighted, such as da Vinci’s habit of working on many projects at once, often abandoning one to start another, and his style of drawing subjects realistically at a time when most patrons of the arts expected to be shown in a more flattering light. 

Young Leonardo does an excellent job showing the human side of the legendary artist. We see him deal with teasing and trouble fitting in from the neighborhood kids, at the same time dishing out some teasing of his own to his family members. His Nonna seems especially harried by Leonardo’s antics. While joking and playing like an ordinary child, Leonardo is forever engaged in lofty ambitions such as the pursuit of flight. Several of the vignettes show him testing a variety of wings he has constructed. Several comics show his other scholarly interests such as architecture and anatomy. 

The full-color artwork consists mainly of a traditional panel structure with between nine to twelve cells per page. Some pages lack borders around cells, and a few vignettes are wordless. Characters are drawn in a cartoonish style, only given four fingers per hand for example. However, astute readers will recognize the realism Augel brings to the book. Drawings from Leonardo da Vinci’s actual notebooks are woven into the story and appear throughout the book. Characters are included who match portraits sketched by da Vinci, and the entire da Vinci family is introduced in a pose reminiscent of The Last Supper. Most of the vignettes are comical with some tongue-in-cheek references along the way. One page sees Leonardo painting the borders around the cells, yet failing to finish them, a reference to the many projects he abandoned throughout his career. 

Endmatter includes biographical information which illuminates the main text, as well as activities the reader can try in order to practice one of da Vinci’s experiments, a vocabulary quiz, and a matching game. A teaching guide follows which includes additional background information, common core connections, and ideas for using the book within a classroom setting. There is much young readers can learn from the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and Young Leonardo presents these lessons well. Leonardo is a character who shows perseverance and grit, While he does abandon some projects, he never stops inventing and trying new ideas. He continues his pursuit of human flight despite setbacks. Even when others mock or question him, he continues to seek knowledge and to create. This book is a great tool for classroom instruction, and an enjoyable title for readers interested in history.


Young Leonardo
By William Augel
Art by  William Augel
Big, an imprint of Humanoids, 2020
ISBN: 9781643376417

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French,

  • Kelly

    | She/Her Library Information Specialist, South Park Elementary School

    Reviewer

    Kelly Jahng has studied English, history, and French, and taught middle school for sixteen years.She earned a masters in education along the way before changing hats and earning her MLIS at San Jose State University.She now works as the Library Information Specialist at South Park Elementary School in Deerfield, IL.She loves to collaborate with teachers in the school learning commons and to help students create in the makerspace.In her spare time, she loves to travel, enjoy theatre, read and review youth and YA literature, and write the occasional post for various blogs.

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