As she struggles with vision loss, Mafalda takes stock of her gains in this Italian import and debut.
Without her glasses, fifth grader Mafalda sees the world as a mist, a complication of her Stargardt disease, a rare form of macular degeneration. Because the mist will eventually turn into darkness, she keeps a list of “Things I care a lot about (but I won’t be able to do anymore).” In lyrical prose ably translated by Muir, Peretti, who also has Stargardt disease, takes readers through Mafalda’s school year as the preteen tracks the progression of her disease by crossing off the activities she can no longer perform and the decreasing number of steps it takes to reach the schoolyard cherry tree from when she can first see it. Many chapters end with a pleading to Cosimo, the protagonist of Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, for help. Young readers unfamiliar with this work will still understand Mafalda’s prayerlike requests to this spirited boy who chose to live among the trees and her own decision to live in the cherry tree. The sorrow of imminent darkness is tempered, however, by the girl’s friendships with the school custodian, a Romanian immigrant, and schoolmate Filippo, who lives with his single mother. Both experience their own losses and help Mafalda realize that life goes on with unexpected joys. A minor character is Indian; others are assumed to be white Europeans.
A quiet, philosophical story for thoughtful readers. (Fiction. 8-12)