Renaissance Italy for Children and Tweens: a reading list

by AKNickerson / Oct 15, 2008 / 1 comments

Nancy, a reader, wrote last week and asked, “Would you please e-mail me a few books on Michelangelo / Leonardo da Vinci appropriate for a 10 year-old boy to read prior to going to Italy?” Rather than just reply to Nancy, I thought I’d share my reading list with you all. Of course, creating a generic reading list is difficult, but here are some suggestions for children and tweens about to embark on their first trip to Italy.


The Masters of Art Series:


* Michelangelo: Master of the Italian Renaissance by Gabriella di Cagno

* Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Inventor, and Scientist of the Renaissance by Francesca Romei

This is a great series! The books look much like the more popular Eyewitness books, and they have original illustrations in addition to photographs. The text is fragmented and is largely used to illustrate the images, but it is accurate and interesting.


DK Eyewitness Books:


* Ancient Rome by Simon James

* Da Vinci and His Times by Andrew Langley

* Renaissance by Alison Cole

The DK Eyewitness series is incredibly popular and for good reason. They have three titles that are particularly pertinent for travelers to Italy, and all three are excellent resources.


A Journey into Michelangelo’s Rome by Angela K. Nickerson

I am going to mention my own book here as well. It was not written for children, but it is certainly accessible for tweens and teens – particularly those who enjoy reading. At 160 pages, it is digestible, and it is filled with photographs. My own sisters (ages 20, 15, and 9) have read it and say they enjoyed it. Granted, they might be a little biased… At any rate, it is a guide to one of the most recognizable artists in Italy, and many of the sites you would visit in Rome.


Coloring Books: There are two coloring books that I want to include in this list:


* The Sistine Chapel Coloring Book (Dover Pictoral Archives)
* The Renaissance Painters Coloring Book by Andy Nelson

Of course coloring books are most appropriate for younger children, but artistic teens might find other ways to use them, and the more familiar children are with the art they will see in Italy, the more fun they will have.


Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak

For a precocious reader (or an interested parent) this is a fantastic read! It explains all kinds of details on daily life in ancient Rome in clear, interesting prose. It was written for adults and has a section on prostitution and brothels, so preview it and use your judgment for your own children. However, it is accurate, entertaining, and educational.


Florence for Teens translated by Elisabetta Coletti

This book is easier to find in Florence (that's where I bought it), and it is most appropriate for tweens, actually. The book is a little cheesy, but it has good photos and covers all of the major sights in Florence with just enough information for that particular age group. It also has maps and itineraries that are quite useful.


Roman Mythology: some schools still teach the stories of the gods and goddesses, and kids find them fascinating. But some children have never encountered Jupiter, Juno, and the rest of the gods. Knowing the basic stories makes the art and architecture that kids will see come alive. Standing in front of the bronze Hercules in the Vatican Museums is more impressive if you know the stories about him. And wandering through the Forum is a lot more interesting when you know about the gods and their temples, too. Here are a few resources to help make Roman mythology come alive:

* D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire: This is a classic text with good illustrations. The key to this book as well as the History Channel show listed below is to remember that the ancient Romans basically stole the Greek pantheon and renamed all of the divinities, so the stories are much the same but the names have changed.

* Classical Myths that Live Today by Frances E. Sabin: Sadly this book is out of print, but if you can get a copy of it, do it. It is a great primer on the myths and stories of ancient Greece and Rome -- so many of which are depicted in the great works of art there. It is more appropriate for tweens and teens, and is more of a reference book than a book to sit and read.

* The History Channel: Gods and Goddesses (2006): If your child likes the History Channel, they did a good show about the Greek gods and goddesses. Remember: the ancient Romans basically stole the Greek pantheon and renamed all of the divinities, so the stories are much the same but the names have changed.

* Hercules (Disney Gold Classic Collection)

* Mythology (Fandex Family Field Guides) by Kathryn Petras: I love the Fandex (and am also recommending the Old Testament Fandex). They are great for the car or the plane. The whole family can learn the basic stories of the ancient Greeks and Romans in quick style. Once you’ve read them all, use the decks to do quick quizzes. The Fandex are illustrated with great works of art, too, so they make the connection between art and the stories very clear.

Stories from the Bible: regardless of your religious views, the stories from the Bible are important to know in order to better understand the art of the Renaissance as well as the architecture and culture of Italy in general. There are many good children’s Bibles out there as well as picture books depicting individual stories from the Bible. Here are just a few resources you might find helpful.

* Old Testament Fandex Field Guide: Like the Mythology Fandex, the Old Testament Fandex offers an interactive way to learn the stories of the Old Testament. It is also illustrated with great works of art, so the connections between art and the stories are quite visible. Plus the art can inspire some great conversations!

* The Prince of Egypt (DVD): A retelling of the Moses story in a fun and entertaining movie

* DK Illustrated Family Bible by Peter Dennis: This is a beautiful family Bible which presents the most pertinent stories from the Old and New Testaments with beautiful illustrations.

* Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories by Tomie dePaola: Pitched for a younger reader, Tomie DePaola’s book is beautifully illustrated and contains many of the most popular stories in the Bible.

The cardinal rule for traveling with children of any age: show them things they know about. So, as you plan your trip to Italy, make some time to read with your family. That way when you are there the works of art before you make sense and are even more enjoyable. Nancy, I hope this helps you and your family! Thanks for the question.

If you have other favorite books to share, post them in the comments. 

The more the merrier!


To make this all even easier, I’ve created a Listmania List on


with links to all of the books and movies listed above. I support independent bookstores, but Listmania makes it all easier. So, print it out and then ask for them at your locally-owned, independent bookstore.




Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 9 months ago

    Thanks, Angela! We are learning about Italy right now (we're homeschooling our 6yo daughter) and this list is PERFECT for us. 


    Jessie Voigts


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