The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
September 05, 2023
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A propulsive work of narrative nonfiction about how the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, how the robbery made the portrait the most famous artwork in the world—and how the painting by Leonardo da Vinci should never have existed at all.

On a hot August day in Paris, just over a century ago, a desperate guard burst into the office of the director of the Louvre and shouted, La Joconde, c’est partie! The Mona Lisa, she’s gone!

No one knew who was behind the heist. Was it an international gang of thieves? Was it an art-hungry American millionaire? Was it the young Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, who was about to remake the very art of painting?

Travel back to an extraordinary period of revolutionary change: turn-of-the-century Paris. Walk its backstreets. Meet the infamous thieves—and detectives—of the era. And then slip back further in time and follow Leonardo da Vinci, painter of the Mona Lisa, through his dazzling, wondrously weird life. Discover the secret at the heart of the Mona Lisa—the most famous painting in the world should never have existed at all.

Here is a middle-grade nonfiction, with black-and-white illustrations by Brett Helquist throughout, written at the pace of a thriller, shot through with stories of crime and celebrity, genius and beauty.

Editor review

1 review
Fun and Fact Filled Look at a Notorious Crime
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
I'm sure my students will ask if I remember the Mona Lisa being stolen... in 1911, but I'll have to remind them that I'm not that old. This narrative nonfiction book reminded me a bit of Balis' and Levy's Bringing Down a President in its tone, use of illustrations, and deep dives into back matter about the main topic. Not only do we learn about the theft of the famous painting from the Louvre, but also about the state of forensic investigations at the time, the role of the newspaper in society, and a lot of information about Leonardo daVinci's life and times. Chapters go back and forth from what was going on with the investigation in 1911, back to the 1400s to see how da Vinci's work was evolving, and even into the present day to see how both of these occurrences influence modern thought. There are some side discussions about dowries in Renaissance Italy, da Vinci's eccentricities, and even French criminal investigation innovations. There's a lot, but its done with a light tone, and reads quickly.

Good Points
Helquist's illustrations are always a delight, and it's perfect for a book about art to have his drawings. Because this is set in the past, it's also helpful for readers to be able to envision what people wore, and what Paris looked like at the time.

An inordinate amount of middle grade readers are interested in true crime podcasts, and can't get enough of nonfiction books like Sullivan's Jailbreak at Alcatraz and Denson's Kathy Puckett and the Case of the Unabomber. I even purchased some of Abdo's American Crime Stories. The Mona Lisa Vanishes is a good choice for readers who like art related fiction mysteries like Balliett's 2004 Chasing Vermeer, Hick's The Van Gogh Deception, Dionne's Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, Asselin's The Art of the Swap. or Armendariz's Julieta and the Diamond Enigma and are looking for nonfiction that has some more information about different aspects of the art in question. Another excellent choice is Sullivan's illustrated The 500 Million Dollar Heist : Isabella Stewart Gardner and Thirteen Missing Masterpieces.
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