Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Leonardo da Vinci

This week (April 15th) marks the 558th birthday of Leonardo da Vinci.

I have to admit, I always found Leonardo da Vinci a bit intimidating. Just the sheer genius of the man made him seem cool and unapproachable, not exactly the kind of guy I'd invite to a family picnic. How do you connect with someone who excels at everything? And, as a writer, how do I help my young readers feel that connection?

A few years ago I stumbled across a great Leonardo anecdote in a sixteenth century biography. It concerned a monster painting that Leonardo had supposedly done as a teenager. The monster was so lifelike, the story goes, that his own father was frightened upon first seeing it. I thought it would make a unique picture book. But there was that stumbling block--that larger-than-life figure standing in my way. In the old biography, he was described as being talented at math and science as well as art, as being a gifted musician, strong, handsome, and popular. In short, he came across as the kind of teacher's pet I hated to sit next to in class. What was I to do with him?

I decided to use humor to humanize my subject. I acknowledged that this boy was an over-the-top "pretty unusual" kid and found the humor in that. I looked at his glowing accomplishments and mined those for some humor. ("Making your teacher quit is pretty unusual.") As the chuckles came, I felt my subject begin to thaw. The writing began to flow.

Humor is like sunshine: it will both illuminate and warm your subject.

Please look for my picture book, LEONARDO'S MONSTER, out Fall 2010 from Pelican Publishing.

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