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.

The Brave Princess and Me by Kathy Kacer

The Brave Princess and Me

Kathy Kacer, Author

Juliana Kolesova, Illustrator

Magination Press, Historical Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8 and up

Themes: Princess Alice of Greece, Deaf, WW II, Jewish Girl, Nazis, Compassion, Bravery

Opening: There once was a princess who lived in Greece. Her full name was Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie, but she was called Princess Alice. When she was young her family discovered that she was deaf.

Book Synopsis:

In 1943, the Second World War is raging, and the Nazi’s have taken control of most of Europe — including Athens, where Princess Alice of Greece lives. Princess Alice is kind and accepting of different types of people. Something the Nazis are not. Born deaf, she knows what it is like to be discriminated against.

With the arrival of the Nazis, all the Jews living in Greece are in danger, including young Tilde Cohen and her mother. On the run, they must find a safe place to hide. When they arrive unannounced, on Princess Alice’s doorstep and beg her to hide them, the princess’s kindness is put to the test. Will she risk her own life to save theirs?

Why I like this book:

I love true stories about women who were heroes during the war, without even realizing it. They did what they knew was morally right in their hearts with little thought of the consequences. Princess Alice’s story is engaging and will encourage readers to wonder if they had the courage to risk their lives to save someone. The illustrations are stunning and perfectly match the mood of the story.

Princess Alice’s story is narrated by Tilde Cohen. The narration is quite wordy, but it fits the period of the story beautifully. Readers will want to know the details. Tilde and her mother are given a two-room apartment with a small kitchen. Every afternoon Princess Alice has tea with them and they talk about happy times in Greece before the Nazis invade. Through Tilde we learn that the princess can read lips in three different languages, but keeps it a secret. Everyday the princess leaves to help feed the poor and visit the sick.  When the stakes get high and two Nazi soldiers pound on the door and ask the princess if she’s hiding Jews, Princess Alice uses her deafness to trick the soldiers and make them think she’s not smart and can’t understand them.

Make sure you read the fascinating backmatter about Princess Alice’s life at the end of the book. She was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the mother of Prince Phillip (husband of Queen Elizabeth), grandmother to Prince Charles, and great grandmother of Princes William and Harry. The author includes photographs of Princess Alice — with additional surprises. There is also information about Tilde Cohen’s family.

Resources: Encourage children to interview their parents and grandparents and ask them about family history. Write or record the information. I remember my grandmother and great aunt writing me letters about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but I lost the letters. I know information, but it is the stories about their every day lives I wish I knew. Good family project.

Kathy Kacer is the author of numerous books that tell true stories of the Holocaust for young readers of all ages, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dress, The Magician of Auschwitz, and To Look a Nazi in the Eye. A former psychologist, Kathy has travelled the globe speaking to children and adults about the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.