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Pippo the Fool
Pippo the Fool
By author: Tracey E. Fern   Illustrated by: Pau Estrada
Product Code: 
Binding Information: Hardback 
5  - 8
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Price: $15.95
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Was Pippo the Fool really Pippo the Genius?

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence was a marvel of art, architecture, and engineering. But it lacked a finishing ornament, a crown--a dome! The city fathers had a solution: to invite the finest masters to compete for the chance to design a dome. The rumors of this contest reached the ears of Filippo Brunelleschi, better known in Florence as Pippo the Fool. As soon as he heard about the contest, Pippo knew it was the chance he had been waiting for. "If I can win the contest, I will finally lose that nickname once and for all!"

This book tells the story of the construction of an architectural masterpiece--Brunelleschi's Dome. Tracey E. Fern depicts Pippo's prickly personality with humor and warmth, and Pau Estrada's richly detailed illustrations bring Renaissance Florence to life. An excellent way to introduce kids to an important moment in Western engineering and history.

This book is good for your brain because:
Biography, Determination, Problem Solving

Author's Note

Pippo the Fool is based on a true story. Filippo Brunelleschi was born in 1377 and grew up in the shadow of Florence's Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Pippo's father wanted him to become a notary and spend his days drafting legal documents. Pippo had other ideas. He became a goldsmith, clockmaker, sculptor, and inventor. But Pippo's true love was architecture.

Pippo designed several buildings in Florence, including the Pazzi Chapel, the Foundling Hospital, and a church known as Santo Spirito. The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore was his most difficult and spectacular project.

No one had ever attempted to build such a large dome, and no one had any idea how such a dome could support itself. Many architects believed that without bulky external buttresses, such an enormous dome would simply collapse like a house made of cards.

Pippo began work on the dome in 1420. More than three hundred stonecutters, masons, and other laborers worked on the dome. They used an estimated seven hundred trees and seventy million pounds of marble, brick, stone, and mortar. The finished dome soars nearly 295 feet from the ground and took sixteen years to build.

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If you like this book, you'll love these:
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  • Awards
  • ABC Best Books for Children
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
  • CCBC Choices
  • Junior Library Guild Selection
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award

  • Reviews
       Booklist - January 15, 2009

    With a great deal of charm and buttressed by understated humor, Fern tells a fictionalized story of Renaissance architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi and his most magnificent work, the dome of the Cathedral of Florence. When word comes out of a contest to determine who will design the dome, Pippo, a goldsmith known for his beautiful but useless oddities, is determined to win and shed his unwanted nickname. The judges decide upon his visionary design but also decree that he must work in concert with his chief rival and primary heckler, Lorenzo. Pippo is dismayed at the prospect of doing all the work and only receiving half the glory, but his determination to see his plan through to fruition wins out. Throughout, Estrada's timeless art highlights Florence's orange-roofed architecture and colorfully attired citizens. Readers won't realize just how massive a project constructing the dome really was until they arrive at the scale-shifting details of tiny workers, scaffolds, and cranes, a scene like something from David Macaulay's The Way Things Work (1988). Although the primary drama between Pippo and Lorenzo is played out with grade-school churlishness, it offers a handy morality lesson: take joy in one's accomplishments rather than the accolades to which they might lead. An afterword fleshes out some of the historical and engineering details of the dome for those inquisitive about the Renaissance.

      The Florentine - March 1, 2009
    When you think of the story of Brunelleschi's dome of Florence cathedral, you think of complicated construction machinery and mind-boggling mathematical calculations, don't you? Well, you're right. The story is rife with math and machines. But, it's also spiced with plenty of anecdotes, the kind that run the gamut of human strengths and foibles. They've been in circulation since the Renaissance, and they're still, even after more than five hundred years, guaranteed to appeal to young and old audiences alike. Surprisingly, these anecdotes were long trapped between the pages of scholarly books, until Ross King released them a few years ago in his popular adult non-fiction book. What was still missing, however, was an accessible children's version of the Brunelleschi story. Decades ago Anne Rockwell wrote and illustrated Filippo's Dome, but her book is long out of print.
    Now Charlesbridge Publishing has published the whimsical story Pippo the Fool, written by Tracey Fern and illustrated by Pau Estrada. The words and pictures are certain to enthrall readers. Tracey Fern chose to focus on the rivalry between Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti in a manner that is highly entertaining and sure to provoke many laughs from the younger audience. Some may wonder if it is fair to cast Brunelleschi as an eccentric, spending his time `designing peculiar machines no one needed and sketching outlandish structures no one wanted to build,' but we should take all this with a grain of salt, just as we are meant to chuckle when we read of Lorenzo Ghiberti anachronistically sipping cappuccino as he gossips with the market women. In Pippo the Fool, Brunelleschi's overriding concern is to convince the Florentines that he does not deserve the denigrating nickname, and just like in all good stories, he succeeds and exits to the applause of `Pippo the Genius.'
    Because this is a picture book, the illustrations hold as much of our attention as the words. Pau Estrada has plundered the storehouse of images of Florentine Renaissance architecture, machinery and people to come up with his own delightful compositions. Readers who have looked closely at Italian art can play the game of identifying the sources. For a starter, the woman sitting in front of the tapestry weavers on the first page was inspired by Giotto's Arena Chapel fresco, Woman with a Distaff. The famous `Catena' panorama of Florence served for the illustration of Brunelleschi standing on a promontory overlooking Florence and pondering the dome-less cathedral. And to the reader just fresh from a visit to Masaccio and Masolino's Brancacci Chapel, the two elegantly robed and turbaned gentlemen strolling into the scene of Brunelleschi racing to the cathedral building site will look very familiar.
    The book concludes with notes by the author to fill in some of the historical background, and by the artist to reveal how he prepared for illustrating the story. Pippo the Fool will no doubt stimulate many readers to want to go and
      Oppenheim Toy Portfolio - May 1, 2009
    Though many doubted him, Filippo Brunelleschi, better known as Pippo the Fool, believed he could design the dome of the unfinished cathedral in Florence. Based on a true story, this work of historic fiction captures the climate of the times and the spirit of a man who had a dream he was determined to make a reality. Pau Estrada's delightful art adds much to the humor and drama of the tale.
    Filled with the exciting details and dramam of Renaissance-era construction, this absorbing fictional tale introduces Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed the dome that tops the Cathedral of Florence.
      Italian America Magazine - April 1, 2009
    This story is based on the life of Filippo "Pippo" Brunelleschi, the man who designed the huge dome of Florence's cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore in 1420. His design created a small inner dome to support the massive outer one, took 16 years to complete, but still stands as a marvel of construciton. This funny and endearing tale is accompanied by Pau Estrada's beautifully detailed illustrations.
      School Library Journal - June 1, 2009
    A slice of history is served à la Florentine for the delectation of curious minds in this revealing portrait of genius Filippo Brunelleschi. Determined and stubborn, he vies with a more physically and cosmetically advantaged rival in a competition to select the designer and builder of a dome to grace Renaissance Florence’s grand cathedral. Estrada’s excellent watercolor and gouache illustrations detail 1400s Florence perfectly, from costumes to workshops to construction sites to the soaring towers projecting above the red rooftops crammed inside the city walls. Fern’s humorous text brings Pippo’s crabby persona to cranky life as he ponders, sketches, schemes, calculates, and competes his way to a glorious completed dome and lasting fame. Extended author’s and illustrator’s notes answer questions that may be raised by the simple text, and a short list of resources (adult materials) is appended. This neat blend of fact and fiction is as seamlessly constructed as the intricate brickwork of the dome on the Duomo.
    A Junior Library Guild Selection, Pippo the Fool is a children's picturebook based on the true story of the man who designed the dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. One of the masters invited to compete for the opportunity to design the dome, Filippo Brunelleschi was also commonly nicknamed Pippo the Fool. But the dramatic design for his dome was beyond anything previously imagined. Could Pippo the Fool truly be Pippo the Genius? A delightful tale about one of Italy's greatest engineers and architects evolves.
      Big Universe Blog - April 3, 2010

    It’s human nature for people to love a good story about an underdog. Small guy beats big guy. It’s a classic theme – one that kids just eat up!

    Tonight, Butler University, a small school in Indianapolis, will battle it out in the Final 4 of the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament against huge schools with much bigger sports programs. Back in the Depression, a small thoroughbred horse named Seabiscuit went from long shot to miracle worker when he soundly upset War Admiral – the 1938 Triple Crown Winner – in the “Match of the Century.” And of course, Americans love to retell how their ragtag army of patriots upset the British Empire more than two centuries ago.

    The children’s picture book Pippo the Fool fits snugly in this genre. It’s a tale of an underdog, who initially gets little respect, but triumphs in the end. Children going through such a social dilemma will relate, especially kids who are a little quirky or are talented but fly under the radar.

    What makes this book published by Charlesbridge an even better story is that the tale is true! Author Tracey E. Fern brings history to life as she retells the unusual circumstances surrounding the finishing of the dome on Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Italy more than 600 years ago. It features a contest, a braggart, an underdog and justice – all tied up in pretty packaging, thanks to the charming illustrations by Pau Estrada.

    Pippo the Fool also teaches moral lessons. It encourages readers to reach for the stars. It teaches the value of perseverance and the pursuit of happiness, whether faced with ridicule from the town bully, health challenges or unfair circumstances. Perhaps best of all is the belief that justice is worth hoping for!

      CCBC Book of the Week - July 6, 2009
    Filippo Brunelleschi saw the contest to design the dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence as an opportunity. In the past, his outrageous ideas had earned him the nickname Pippo the Fool. If he won the contest, he would be taken seriously at last. Pippo’s plans for the dome were unlike anything seen before—they showed it set atop the cathedral without any visible means of support. Yet as crazy as the judges found it, they ultimately awarded him the job. There was a hitch, however: he must work with the renowned but arrogant sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose own design had been rejected. Tracey E. Fern’s story about this fifteenth century genius is full of medieval details and architectural insights. Both Fern and illustrator Pau Estrada provide informative endnotes that further illuminate Pippo’s architectural achievement and their approaches to interpreting these historical personalities and events.
      Laughing Owl Reviews - September 17, 2010
    Pippo may have appeared to be a fool, but he knew he had something special in him! In his hometown of Florence, Italy, during the late 14th century, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was without a dome. No one seemed to be able to figure out how to add such a huge and heavy dome to the building! The contest was on. Pippo's idea seemed crazy - maybe at first.

    Tracey E. Fern's story, Pippo the Fool, is based in truth. Filippo Brunelleschi really did exist. Fern's storytelling brings lots into play for young minds. Parents will be able to stop and discuss things such as kindness to others, believing in oneself, creativity, not giving up, and more. With Pau Estrada's imaginative illustrations bringing color and perspective, children will be able to envision another time period and culture. Costumes, architecture, even the faces of the characters bring this book to life and draw children in. Pippo a fool? You'll have to see for yourself...

      Oneota Reading Journal - November 8, 2010
    This book is great for young readers, as it is not only entertaining but also informative about the Renaissance period. Filippo Brunelleschi, or Pippo the Fool as he is referred to in the story, is living in sixteenth century Florence. Pippo is a goldsmith, but instead of making beautiful trinkets, he makes outlandish machines and structures that no one has use for. Word spreads that there is going to be a contest to see who can design the best dome for the city. Pippo wants to win the contest so that people will no longer think of him as Pippo the Fool. Nobody believes that Pippo will succeed; they think that he will only make a bigger fool of himself by entering the contest. As children read this book they will admire Pippo's determination and imagination. The illustrations of Pau Estrada depicts Renaissance Florence in a bold and colorful manner.
      Curled Up With A Good Kids Book - September 1, 2011
    Pippo the Fool, based on the true story of Filipo Brunelleschi, is about the goldsmith, clockmaker, sculptor and inventor who answers the town contest for someone who can design a dome for the cathedral in Florence.

    Despite the snickering of Lorenzo Chilberti, the most famous sculptor in Florence, Pippo appears before the judges to present his ideas for the dome. The judges laugh at his ideas and call him crazy, but Pippo doesn't give up; instead, he builds a model based on his ideas. The judges are impressed by the dome and agree to let Pippo build the dome, but on one condition - Pippo must work with Lorenzo.

    Anguished by the choice to work with Lorenzo who only insults Pippo, or not build the dome, Pippo decides "I would truly be a fool to allow my pride to be bigger than my dome." The construction of Pippo's dome begins and leads Pippo to exhaustion. When he takes a day off to recover, Lorenzo is left to take over, and it becomes obvious to the judges and workers that Lorenzo has no idea what to do. When Pippo hears that Lorenzo was fired from the project by the judges, he returns to work quickly and receives full credit and praise for the final magnificent result.

    Pippo the Fool is a story of determination and attaining goals in spite of adversity while introducing children to an aspect of history. Pippo struggles against society's opinion of him and persuades the judges that his design for the dome is the best one. He also overcomes the challenge of working with an uncooperative partner.

    His calculations and ponderings concerning the design and construction of the dome give a simple introduction to architecture. The back of the book tells the true story behind this book, giving a detailed explanation about the design and work on the dome.

    The illustrator also explains her inspiration for her depiction of Pippo. From city scenes showing the landscape of an old world to the close-ups of Pippo working in his home, the illustrations are rich with detail and depict life in Italy around the 1370s. This book is filled with imagination and spirit. Highly recommended

      WCMU Children's Bookshelf - March 26, 2009
    PIPPO THE FOOL written by Tracey E. Fern and illustrated by Pau Estrada is a picture book of historical fiction set in 15th Century Florence about the design and the construction of the great dome atop the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and about the genius of Filippo Brunelleschi.

    Pippo, a shortened version of Filippo, is the underdog in a contest run by the city fathers to find the best artist and the best design for this dome. The consuming problem was how to design such a dome and actually get it constructed and maintained without it being crushed by its own weight, destroying the cathedral or requiring unsightly supportive columns and scaffolding. Thinking quietly and out of the box, Pippo designs a dome in a dome. The smaller circular dome on the inside, as the text relates, supports the grand eight-sided dome on the outside. He designs an interlocking pattern of blocks and chains to hold the two domes together on the inside and 72 holes through which the wind can pass on the outside. Much of the fun of the telling is found in the self-assurance and the hard work of Pippo in contrast to the bravado of other artists.

    Pippo wins the contest, gets the contract and spends the next 16 years building the grand dome which was completed in 1436----an artistic and engineering feat considered to be Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece.

    Pau Estrada's illustrations are drawn with humor and skill for capturing the flair of Florence in the 1400s with its color palette of rich opaque browns, burnt gold and dark ruby reds. Every picture is full of informing details and features the incredibly lively nature of the townspeople. Potters, weavers, monks, market women, children and trades people populate the illustrations and are shown talking, laughing, whispering, pointing, shouting and communicating in all ways. They are a dramatic lot. Artists Ghiberti and Donatello are also portrayed. Animals provide playful details especially the cats. The illustrator also points out in his Notes that he has pulled details from other artists such as a monk and donkey from Giotto, a wild boar from Ghirlandaio and a monkey from Masaccio.