Lia Levi grew up in Italy with loving parents and two younger sisters. In this simple and effective memoir, she recounts for young readers of today what life was like during the years 1938 – 1942. When Mussolini decided Jewish children could no longer attend school, Levi was sent to a Jewish school instead; but as the strictures grew more oppressive and her father lost his job, the family was forced to move from city to city, eventually landing in Rome where Levi, her sisters, and her mother had no choice but to pose as Christians. They lived in a convent where nuns sheltered them and kept them safe until their liberation by American soldiers.
Levi looks back on those years from an adult vantage point and inserts notes explaining the history of the times. She assures the reader at each turn that for this family, at least, things will work out. Despite her consoling, however, there are moments in the book when the war looms large, as when Lia and her sisters must shelter in a bomb-proof basement while hearing the loud booms of air battle above.
The narrative is accompanied by full-page black-and-white illustrations invoking the daily life Levi led, the characters’ clothing and facial expressions adding to the story’s immediacy.
Post-war life had its difficulties, and readjustment was no easy task, but Levi and her family gradually rebuilt their lives. In an afterword, the author explains to her readers why it is important to remember the past, even the painful parts, and why it is imperative to fight racism in all its forms. She adds a note of appreciation to the American soldiers who were their liberators and reminds American children to appreciate their country for the freedoms it provides.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.