What Isabella Wanted by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Matthew Cordell


What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2021. 9780823442638

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

Genre:  Biography

What did you like about the book? Isabella Stewart Gardner was an eccentric and rich Bostonian living at the turn of the last century. Known throughout upper crust society for her odd behavior and impulsivity (and great parties), Isabella began collecting some of the extraordinary world art (pictures, tapestries, pottery, sculptures) of the time and adding it to her massive mansion on the Fenway in Boston. History has complicated Isabella’s collection. We are now aware that it’s not ok to go to another country and steal their art (Isabella brought artwork home any way she could – by purchasing, smuggling, bribery and pure theft). And, in 1990, thieves broke into the Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art. Candace Fleming does a great job balancing all sides. It’s lovely to have so many works in one place but did Isabella have a right to them? Would the art be gone from the world today if Isabella hadn’t originally brought it to Boston? This is a great biography of not only Isabella Stewart Gardner but of her home and her collection. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Those who love picture book biographies will want to add this one to their list. Anyone living around Boston who is planning a trip to the Gardner will want to look at the various perspectives around the museum and the collection and What Isabella Wanted is a great way to do it.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school libraries and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Biographies

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Pam WattsFlavin, Head of Children’s Services, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: October 21, 2021

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