Printer’s apprentice Cinzia has worked for printer Mestra Aronne in the sunny city of Siannerra for almost three years. Mestra has taught her a lot about the printing press, news sources, listening to the city’s talk, and the importance of truth when printing an avvisi, the town news pamphlet. Mestra is certain that Cinzia will be a fine printer someday. But when Cinzia and Mestra are taken to the principessa for something they printed, the principessa says the guards will keep them in jail until she and the magistrate (her brother) figure out what to do with them. The principessa says they’re treasonous for reporting what Mestra says is the truth. But if it’s the truth, why won’t anyone speak up for them?
Cinzia escapes and sets out to prove that her Mestra’s story is true—but she won’t have to do it alone! Unknown to the principessa, her daughter (the contessina Elena) knows that, “truth is dangerous, and power is dangerous.” She will help Cinzia find the proof that may help release Mestra. Carlotta the pirate has ears all through the city and wants to help. Cinzia knows that nothing stays secret for long, and the powerful have a vested interest in keeping secrets secret.
The three young women are from very different backgrounds. The book delves into many topics, some of which are complex for readers ages 8-12, which is the age range Greenwillow Press has marked the book for. The Italianate style of the city, the whispers and politics, and the Romanesque palazzos all add complexity to the story. This is a fast-moving story for middle school kids interested in European history, journalism, historical reenactment, or sleuthing and mysteries. Cinzia, Elena, and Carlotta are positive role models who portray persistence, honesty, and bravery. Kids will identify with being scared but wanting to do the right thing, even when it’s hard and not what you thought it would be or costs you something dear. They’ll also learn a lot about the power of the press and friendship. The book asks hard questions and makes young people think.
The art is bright and clean lined and the panels flow easily. Some pages show the warm bright Mediterranean sun and describe the characters’ escape from the guards using maps of the different palazzos. The pages aren’t text-heavy and word balloons are placed so that young readers can easily see the conversation flow. The characters are diverse and have many skin colors. Kids will see themselves represented in many of them. The title is 287 pages and comes with an author’s note in the back, explaining the real history of avvisi and the fictional city of Siannerra.
I agree with Greenwillow Press, this is a great addition to a middle school library—it’s a unique subject and time period for this age group.
By Marieke Nijkamp
Art by Sylvia Bi
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)