Pippo the Fool

Pippo the Fool

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By: Tracey E. Fern / Illustrated by: Pau Estrada

“A contest! A contest!”
The whisper swept across the broad piazzas . . .

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.

“Absolutely wonderful—Pippo Brunelleschi steps from the pages with color, zest, and charm. Bravissimo!”
     —Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

“[B]eautifully told…”
     —David Macaulay, MacArthur Fellow and author of The Way Things Work

Read an excerpt

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Tracey E. Fern, author

Tracey E. Fern first climbed the 463 steps to the top of Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome when she was a student visiting Florence. She is the author of Buffalo Music (Clarion). Tracey lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Read more about Tracey E. Fern.

Pau Estrada, illustrator

Pau Estrada is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design and has illustrated many books for children in the United States and in Europe, including Picasso and Minou and Soccer Counts! Pau lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Read more about Pau Estrada.

Awards & Honors:


  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • CCBC Choices
  • ABC Best Books for Children
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
  • Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth

Editorial Reviews:

Booklist, starred review

With a great deal of charm and buttressed by understated humor, Fern tells a fictionalized story of Renaissance architect and engineer Filippo Brunellischi 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 detail 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.

School Library Journal, starred review

A slice of history is served a 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 asa seamlessly constructed as the intricate brickwork of the dome on the Duomo.

Library Sparks

Pippo the Fool was the derogatory nickname of Filippo Brunelleschi, a Renaissance goldsmith and inventor with big ideas and an unpleasant personality. Despite derision from colleagues and judges alike, Filippo's ingenious plan for the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore won the design contest. Never before had a dome so large been commissioned, nor had one that seemed architecturally impossible been so cleverly designed and constructed. Though the book is historical fiction, two pages of notes and resources explain and show the gorgeous Italian church and its inspirational dome—the work of a determine man with big ideas.

Italian America

This story is based on the life of Filippo "Pippo" Bruselleschi, the man who designed the huge dome of Florence's cathedral, Santa maria del Fiore in 1420. His design that created a small inner dome to support the massive outer one, took 16 years to complete but still stands as a marvel of construction. This funny and endearing tale is accompanied by Pau Estrada's beautifully detailed illustrations.


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ISBN: 978-1-57091-655-7

ISBN: 978-1-57091-793-6

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-130-7
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 5-8
Page count: 48
8 1/2 x 11


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