Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Da Vinci's Cat is a fanciful, middle-grade alternate history romp that narrates the adventures of 16th-century "gentleman" Federico and his encounters with New Jersey time-travelers Herbert Bother and Beatrice "Bee" Bliss.
The year is 1511, and 11-year-old Federico of Mantua is living in Rome as the hostage of Pope Julius II where he freely associates with Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Raphael. One night, Federico hears scratching coming from an ornate closet and discovers a tawny kitten. The next night, the kitten jumps into the closet and returns moments later, fully grown and held in the arms of Herbert Bother, time-traveler and art trader from 1928 New Jersey. Herbert tells Federico that the closet (and Juno the cat) belonged to Master Leonardo and offers Federico a trade: Herbert will bring the boy chocolate if Federico brings Herbert sketches. In modern-day New Jersey, Beatrice "Bee" Bliss discovers a tawny cat. When she takes the cat across the road to the home of Miss Bother, the old woman recognizes Bee from an unsigned Raphael drawing. To figure out this puzzle, Bee will need an ornate closet, a feisty cat and the prideful young hostage of Pope Julius II.
Da Vinci's Cat, told in third person, is a story about selflessness, friendship and the importance of seeking unity through difference. Gilbert (The Book of Boy) emphasizes a classic lesson: it is important to help others, no matter how they might dress, speak or act. Life's greatest trials, the children learn, may not be conquerable alone, but any difficulty can be overcome with a little bit of help from friends. This novel will be perfect for lovers of Madeleine L'Engle and When You Reach Me. --Cade Williams, freelance reviewer and staff writer at the Harvard Independent