Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II

Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
March 22, 2022
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In this award-winning memoir translated from Italian to English, a Jewish girl grows up during a difficult time of racial discrimination and war, and discovers light in unexpected places. This classic, powerful story from Lia Levi is adapted for young readers, with beautiful black-and-white illustrations, a family photo album, and a powerful author’s note to readers.
1938, Italy. Six-year-old Lia loves to build sandcastles at the beach and her biggest problem is her shyness and quiet, birdlike voice—until prime minister Mussolini joins forces with Hitler in World War II, and everything changes.

Now there are laws saying Jewish children can’t go to school, Jews can’t work, or go on vacation. It’s difficult for Lia to understand why this is happening to her family. When her father loses his job, they must give up their home and move from city to city.

As war comes closer, it becomes too dangerous to stay together, and Lia and her sisters are sent to hide at a convent. Will she ever be “just a girl” again?

The memoir is full of poignant moments of friendship and loss, dreaded tests at school, told in Lia's captivating voice, as she grows into a young teen. Just a Girl is an important addition to the WWII Jewish canon.

Editor review

1 review
World War II in Italy
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
In this memoir for elementary readers, we learn the story of Lia Levi, who was born in 1931. When Mussolini comes to power and starts to exert sanctions against Jewish citizens, her parents start to make plans to keep the family safe. Her father loses his job, Lia has to move to an school for Jewish children, and soon the bombs start to fall. The family, which includes Lia's younger sisters Gabriella and Vera, and a nanny, Maria, soon start moving around the country to stay safe. They go to a grandmother's on the seaside, while Vera stays with another grandmother in Rome, and eventually to Milan and Rome. When the moving becomes more difficult, Lia is enrolled in a Catholic school for her own safety, where she is safer, but occasionally sees bombs dropping.
Good Points
While Lia's experiences are harrowing, they skirt the edge of the war's atrocities and make this a good choice for describing the treatment of Jews during World War II to the youngest of readers. The story is mainly concerned with the daily aspects of life during the war, and also illustrates the sort of circumstances that are currently ongoing in places like Afghanistan and Ukraine. There is an underlying theme of Lia learning to speak up for herself; she starts the book being very shy, but as her experiences test her strength and resolve, she learns to speak up when necessary.

Black and white illustrations accompany the text, and there are side bars addressing issues like from Lia's perspective as an older adult, recounting her experiences. The pictures are great for driving home the sorts of clothing that people wore, the buildings and landscape of Italy, and various other historical aspects.

There have not been too many books written about the experience of the Italians during World War II. Napoli's In a Flash has Italian sisters living in Japan, and her Stones in Water details the experiences of an Italian boy who is catured by the Nazis. There is also Hughes' Hero on a Bicycle (2013) explores the life of a boy who is fighting the Nazis in, and Marsden's Take Me With You (2010), which chronicles the life of a girl whose father is an American GI. Spradlin's Jack Montgomery: World War II: Gallantry at Anzio gives a good nonfiction look at the experiences of the military action in the region.
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