Summer vacation is winding down and Michaela, a twelve-year-old from Sarasota, FL is bored. Despite her art and her violin, there just isn’t that much to do. She lives with her parents at the groundskeeper’s cottage at the Ringling Museum where she copies the Renaissance masters from John Ringling’s art collection. While she is copying a painting by Masaccio, she is approached by Giorgio, one of the curators of a collection on loan to the museum. He praises her work then passes her some mysterious papers from John Ringling’s diary. At that point, her boredom ends as she travels through time to Florence, Italy where the Renaissance is just beginning. Somehow, she must rescue John Ringling who seems “stuck” in the 15th Century and bring him back to his time in 1920’s America.
THE RINGLING CHRONICLES is a Young Adult story of Renaissance Florence, especially about the building of Il Duomo, the Dome on Florence’s Cathedral. The history behind this grand work of architecture is told as Michaela meets Donatello, Masaccio and the architect, Brunelleschi, who must convince Cosimo di Medici to choose his design for the project. The suspense in the narrative derives from several sources: the competition for the design, the failure of Brunelleschi’s model and the intricacies of time travel. Michaela’s presence in that time and place can affect history if she causes any changes and these changes will prevent her from going home. Michaela’s dialogue throughout the book is an accurate representation of a bright twelve-year-old and the other characters maintain their own unique diction. Despite the clarity of speech and the well-written narrative, there are a few small discrepancies in the plot. There is close attention to the “butterfly effect” of changing history but the loss of a 21st Century copy of Vassario’s text on great artists is never resolved. Leaving such a work behind is the kind of change that will affect history. In addition, the fate of John Ringling is unclear. These are, however, small problems in an otherwise well done story. Since the subtitle is Book I, perhaps the second book in the series will address this.
THE RINGLING CHRONICLES presents one of the true masterpieces of Renaissance Florence to Young Adult readers.