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Rosa, Sola

Originally published by Candlewick Press in hardback only, Rosa, Sola is now available in paperback and ebook formats, and includes a new "Discussion Questions" section for classroom use. The paperback can be ordered from most booksellers. The Kindle version is available from Amazon, and the Nook version is at BN.com!


Book Description

Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, often feels alone, or sola, as her parents would say. But after she holds her best friend AnnaMaria’s baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will send her a brother of her own.

When Ma does get pregnant, Rosa is overjoyed—until the horrible day when she comes home from school to find Aunt Ida, her bossy godmother, waiting with bad news. Rosa is devastated, and Aunt Ida is no comfort. With Ma in the hospital and Papa spending most of his time there too, Rosa feels lonelier than ever. She begins to wonder, will her broken family ever be whole again? Or will she be left truly sola?


Note: since Rosa, Sola deals with topics of grief and loss, it is recommended for ages 10 and up. For a partial list of other novels for young readers that address these topics, see the right sidebar.

Awards and Accolades

  • Catholic Press Associaton Book Award, Children's Books Category: Honorable Mention, 2017
  • Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval, 2015
  • Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth, 2006
  • Chicago Tribune Read & Write 100 Great Books for Summertime or Anytime, 2006
  • Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year, 2005
  • Baltimore County Public Library Great Books for Kids, 2005  

Scroll down for editorial reviews and to read an excerpt from the novel.


For Background on the Writing of Rosa, Sola: see "Cynsations" Interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Review Excerpts (see left sidebar for comments from young readers)

"Offering a great deal of nuance within an approachable narrative, this tender novel glows with affection and hope for its grieving family—and with promise for its first-time author."


—Starred review, Booklist

"A lucid and quiet telling that respects its characters’ historical perspectives."

Chicago Tribune

"The story unfolds layer by layer, revealing each character’s personality, secrets, and flaws. . . . The healing is drawn honestly and the ending is ultimately hopeful."

School Library Journal

"A warm, tender tale that touches the heart."

Kirkus Reviews

". . . the novel is a more than helpful answer to the age-old question of why God sometimes answers prayers in unusual ways."

Catholic Explorer

"Rosa’s story is about how hope and love can grow out of misfortune and despair."

Italian Catholic Federation Bollettino

To read Barb Szyszkiewicz's Book Notes review of Rosa, Sola at CatholicMom.com, click on this link. The review includes an interview with me and some of the novel's characters, too! 


Excerpt From Chapter 1:

Rosa didn’t feel alone until she had to walk home by herself. Sola. Just thinking the word made her lonely. With Papa at work, Ma would be the only one home. And she’d be busy sewing for her customers.

Rosa reached into her pocket for the baseball Uncle Sal had caught at Wrigley Field the day before. Every June, her great-uncle took her to a Cubs game to celebrate the start of summer, but this was the first time he’d caught a foul ball there. A real major league baseball. The ball’s stitching felt bumpy under Rosa’s fingers.

Showing the ball to AnnaMaria had been Rosa’s excuse to visit her friend. Ever since Antonio had been born, Ma had kept Rosa from going to the Morellis’—she didn’t want Rosa to be a bother. Now Rosa couldn’t wait to tell Ma how she hadn’t been a bother, but a help, and how Mrs. Morelli had let her hold the baby.

As Rosa skipped home she tossed the ball into the air. It came down faster than she expected and landed with a thump alongside the Kowalskis’ back fence. The ball just missed a pair of girl’s red and white polka-dotted shorts hanging at the end of the crowded clothesline. Rosa recognized the shorts. They belonged to Debbie, the next to youngest of the six Kowalski kids. Debbie had been in Rosa’s third grade class.

Most of the kids at Our Lady of Mercy School came from big families like the Kowalskis’. Debbie often teased Rosa about being the only one in their class without a brother or sister. Rosa didn’t know which she hated more—being lonely or being different.

One thing she did know—she wanted a baby brother.

She picked up the baseball and tucked it into her pocket.

When Rosa reached home, her Sunday dress was the only thing on the backyard clothesline. As she watched the pink flowered dress fluttering all alone in the wind, the idea came to her. At Mass next Sunday, she would say an extra-special prayer. She would ask God to send her a baby brother. One just like Antonio.


Discussion Questions for Rosa, Sola

Also, to read a review of Rosa, Sola that includes interview questions with some of the novel's characters, see this Book Notes post by Barb Szyszkiewicz at CatholicMom.com


Warning: If you haven't read the book yet, these questions may "spoil" it for you!

In Chapter One it says, “Rosa didn’t know which she hated more—being lonely or being different.” Why is Rosa lonely? In what ways is she different from other characters in the novel? In what ways is she like the other characters? Do you have anything in common with Rosa?

What kinds of food does Rosa’s family eat on Christmas Eve? Why does Aunt Ida make Rosa eat something she doesn’t like that night? How does the food at the Christmas Eve dinner compare to Aunt Ida’s Labor Day cookout? Does your family have any holiday food traditions? What are they?

Rosa has never met several members of her family. Who are they? Why doesn’t Rosa know them? Is there anyone in your family that you have never met?

How is Uncle Sal related to Rosa? How does having his handkerchief help Rosa? How would the story have been different if Rosa didn’t have someone like Uncle Sal in her life?

Why does Rosa initially dislike Aunt Ida? Rosa is surprised to learn that she has some things in common with Aunt Ida—what are they?

In Chapter Nine, “Gray Suit,” Rosa becomes upset when she sees Papa wearing his gray suit. Why? Why doesn’t he wear his other suit that day?

What does the book’s title, Rosa, Sola, mean? There are several English words that are related to the Italian word sola. Use a dictionary to find the meanings of the following words: desolate, isolate, sole, solitaire, solitary, solo. Which of these words also appears in the glossary to Rosa, Sola? Which character is the word used to describe and why?

Ciao is an Italian word that has two opposite meanings. What are they? When Rosa says “Ciao” at the very end of the story, to whom is she speaking? Which meaning is she using?

Related children’s fiction:
The following books also feature Italian-American families. Read one or more and compare the characters and families to those in Rosa, Sola:

Becoming Joe DiMaggio, by Maria Testa
Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech
26 Fairmount Avenue, by Tomie dePaola