April 01, 2020

Paolo, Emperor of Rome

By Mac Barnett
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Paolo the dachshund wants to see every part of Rome, his busy, beautiful city. The crowds, the noises and the smells of Rome call to him like they do to the eager tourists. But there’s always a door and his owner’s foot blocking his way . . . until, one glorious day, there isn’t.

While it is impossible for Paolo to see all of Rome, author Mac Barnett and illustrator Claire Keane capture the city’s essence dazzlingly, from the Colosseum to Caravaggio, the Pantheon to the Pope’s Swiss Guard. Cultural references and clever historical nods (including Paolo’s wry and ironic triumph over a gang of cats in the very spot where Caesar died) give readers a true sense of place and past that’s both reverential and humorous.

Illustrator Claire Keane’s inspired images feel familiar and timeless; as they do in the great city itself, the old and new merge companionably in her spreads. Thick, bold strokes, like energetic sketches in an artist’s notebook, outline the streets, ruins and characters. Colors collide pleasantly over a background textured like a brick wall, giving the pictures a lush yet gritty appearance. Italian words and names impart authenticity, and Barnett’s remarkable and sophisticated narration enriches the narrative and readers alike.

For anyone who knows and loves Rome (and who could know Rome without loving it?), Paolo’s tale is a captivating love letter to the city and its adventurous spirit. And for those who’ve never been to the Eternal City, Paolo, Emperor of Rome is an enchanting introduction and an invitation to fall under its spell. Once you’ve visited, you’ll long to return.

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