A 9-year-old Italian boy and his mother are caught in the cross hairs of World War II in this middle-grade historical novel.
It’s the spring of 1943, and life hasn’t been easy for Peppino in recent years. His father left for America to start a new life, the Nazis moved into his family’s small Italian town, and Mussolini has aligned Italy with Germany. The German soldiers are brutish, willing to shoot anyone who dissents, and Peppino learns to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Things get worse before they get better: the Fascist mayor relegates Peppino and his mother to living in the basement because he and his wife want the rest of their house for themselves; Peppino and his mother help hide Rachel, a Jewish refugee from Rome; and food becomes scarcer. One day in 1945, the German soldiers begin leaving town, and Peppino and his townsfolk are overjoyed. As the tide of the war turns, Peppino meets a rugby-playing, redheaded British soldier and a group of American GIs. These new friends widen his worldview and make him more determined to meet his father in America. As he and his mother contemplate rebuilding their lives in Italy, Peppino gets word from his father that they should join him in Chicago. Can Peppino convince his mother to travel across the ocean? Rubino (Emmet’s Storm, 2015) claims that most of the stories and asides here actually happened and were culled from tales passed down from her Southern Italian husband and his brethren. She’s a gifted storyteller, balancing the horrors of WWII (including mentions of mustard gas, concentration camps, and the like) with the realities of townsfolk who are just trying to see things through to the other side of the fighting. Illustrations by Cimbalo (East Utica, 2015. etc.) pepper the work, but they’re not necessary to the story; in fact, their sketchlike nature is a bit distracting. The dialogue, however, is wonderful, and a glossary at the back will help non-Italian speakers with the characters’ Italian/English hybrid language. The main character’s evolution from boy to young man is as engaging as the evolution of world events surrounding him. Overall, though, one need not be a history buff to enjoy Peppino and his tale.
An imaginative, engrossing story of triumph during times of war.