In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

In A Flash

Donna Jo Napoli, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Sisters, Italian, World War II, Japan, Survival, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In 1940, when Simona is eight and her sister, Carolina, is five, their father becomes the cook to the Italian ambassador to Japan, and the family leaves Italy for Tokyo. The girls learn perfect Japanese, make friends, and begin to love life in their new home. But soon Japan is engaged in a world war.

In 1943, when all Italians in Japan are confined to internment camps as enemy aliens, Papà and the girls are forced to part, and Simona and Carolina embark on a dramatic journey. Anyone who aids them could be arrested for treason. All the sisters have is each other: their wits, courage, and resilience, and the hope that they will find people who see them not as the enemy, but simply as children trying to survive.

In this gripping, deeply moving story, Donna Jo Napoli gives readers an unforgettable and authentic new perspective on World War II.

Why I like this book:

Donna Jo Napoli’s In a Flash is a dramatic and original story about two Italian sisters who are separated from their father and trapped in Japan during World War II. Napoli’s powerful storytelling captures their harrowing journey to survive and will tug at reader’s heart-strings. 

I was immediately drawn to their gripping story because it’s a piece of history I knew nothing about. There were many Italians living in Japan during the war. And it is researched and well-documented by Napoli. Make sure you read her historical comments at the end of the novel because she sheds more light on this time period. The narrative is in Simona’s strong voice. The setting is vivid, realistic and rich in detail. Readers will get a very strong sense of the beautiful Japanese culture in the first third of the novel — the customs, family life, the pace of life, the abundant markets, and foods — before the bombings begin and the country is thrown into mayhem. The plot is suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. The ending will surprise readers.

The story is character driven. Readers will be captivated by Simona and Carolina’s spirits and strong wills. The acclimate to the culture and quickly become fluent in Japanese. Tokyo becomes home, even though they live inside the Italian embassy. When Italy changes sides during the war, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and America begins bombing Japan, tension rises. The girls and their papa, the Italian ambassador and all Italians living in in Japan are sent to internment and secret prison camps. Simona and Carolina escape a camp and find safe havens among very generous and loving cast of Japanese characters who love and keep them alive during their journey;  three female manga artists, beggars, a washer woman, a professor and German priests. 

Readers will be able to experience the human side of war through Simona and Carolina. This is an important addition to children’s historical fiction and deserves a place in school libraries. 

Donna Jo Napoli has published more than eighty books for young readers, including picture books, early readers, and young adult and middle-grade novels. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and has won many awards at the state and national levels. She is a professor of linguistics and social justice at Swarthmore College, and she brings her research skills and her profound interest in language to bear on her novels, particularly the historical ones. She and her husband live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

19 thoughts on “In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

  1. I’m also fascinated by population displacement and movement in history! I only recently found out about all the Portuguese and Jews who lived in Hong Kong in the last century, and want to read more about them. I’ll be putting this on my to-read list.


  2. This is a part of history I knew nothing about as well. I’m so glad that authors like Donna Jo Napoli are writing books like this to educate not just children but the rest of us.


  3. You make a compelling case to add this to my reading list. The characters, time period, and setting all have me intrigued. Thanks for featuring this important historical fiction story on today’s MMGM.


    • I really enjoyed reading Napoli’s novel. It is so well written with amazing characters that help the girls along their journey. Didn’t know this piece of history about Italians in Japan during the bombings.


  4. I hadn’t heard of this book, but it sounds like such a powerful story! It never occurred to me (because I apparently know next to nothing about WWII) that once Italy left the Axis Powers, Japan found a way to retaliate—that is definitely horrifying. The cast of characters and setting of this story seem like they would counteract the unpleasantness well, though! Thanks so much for the thoughtful review!


    • I love reading and sharing those little known stories about WWII. Just finished two adult novels (one about Italy) that were about unsung heroes of the war. I can’t get enough of stories about the resilience of the human spirit and those who do things for others because it is the right thing to do. Hope you read the book!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I really think you’d enjoy this book, given your background. It was a little piece of history I knew nothing about.

      Just finished reading an adult book about Italy during WWII, Beneath the Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Neither my husband or I could put it down! Again so much I didn’t know and it is so well-written. Being made into a movie.


  5. I never knew this history either. How wonderful for children to be able to learn these truths through historical fiction like this one. I never met books like these when I was in middle grade! Thanks so much, Patricia.


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