Stones in Water

( 33 )


When Roberto sneaks off to see a movie in his Italian village, he has no idea that life as he knows it is over. German soldiers raid the theater, round up the boys in the audience, and pack them onto a train. After a terrifying journey, Roberto and his best friend Samuele find themselves in a brutal work camp, where food is scarce and horror is everywhere. The boys vow to stay together no matter what. But Samuele has a dangerous secret, which, if discovered, could get them both killed. Lovers of historical ...

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When Roberto sneaks off to see a movie in his Italian village, he has no idea that life as he knows it is over. German soldiers raid the theater, round up the boys in the audience, and pack them onto a train. After a terrifying journey, Roberto and his best friend Samuele find themselves in a brutal work camp, where food is scarce and horror is everywhere. The boys vow to stay together no matter what. But Samuele has a dangerous secret, which, if discovered, could get them both killed. Lovers of historical fiction will be captivated by this tragic, triumphant, and deeply moving novel.

After being taken by German soldiers from a local movie theater along with other Italian boys including his Jewish friend, Roberto is forced to work in Germany, escapes into the Ukrainian winter, before desperately trying to make his way back home to Venice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This gripping, meticulously researched story loosely based on the life of an actual survivor, set in Europe during WWII, is told from the point of view of a Venetian boy forced into war against his will. Roberto's quiet life as a gondolier's son ends abruptly the day he sneaks off to see a movie with his older brother and two friends, Memo and Samuele. German soldiers raid the theater and take the boys captive, and Roberto is immediately separated from his brother. Roberto and his two friends are carted by train across the border and quickly learn that although the Germans are allies, they consider the Italians dispensable Nazi soldiers shoot three Italian boys on a train platform. Roberto is concerned for his own safety, but he is even more fearful for his Jewish friend Samuele Roberto and Memo flank him when Samuele urinates, to hide his circumcision. When the train finally halts, Roberto and Samuele manage to stay together, while Memo is sent to a different camp. In the first half of the novel, Roberto describes the abominations he and Samuele both endure and witness as they are sent from one work camp to the next. At one, the boys build a large pen that the Germans later fill with Jews; horrified, Roberto puts himself at great risk to smuggle food daily through the barbed wire to a starving girl and her sister. The second half recounts Roberto's lone escape across Ukraine's barren landscape after Samuele dies fighting for a pair of German boots. Napoli's Song of the Magdalene graphic depiction of the boys' inhumane treatment counterpoints their quiet nurturing of each other's spirits. Roberto gives half his food rations to Samuele because a boy who knows Samuele's secret is confiscating his food, and Samuele helps Roberto fall asleep by telling him comforting stories from the Old Testament. Napoli portrays a war in which resisters and deserters are the real heroes. In her choice of an innocent boy as first-person narrator, she gently leads readers through a gradual unfolding of events until they come face-to-face with the scope of the war's atrocities. Children will be riveted by Roberto's struggle to stay aliveand to aid others along the wayagainst enormous odds. And adults may never view WWII the same way again. Ages 10-up. Oct.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
PW's boxed review called this story of a Venetian gondolier's son and two friends, one Jewish, who are forcibly taken by Nazi soldiers, "gripping and meticulously researched." Ages 10-14. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
The ALAN Review - Chris Crowe
Roberto's happy life in Venice is disrupted when he and his Jewish friend, Samuele, are kidnapped along with many other Italian boys and put on a train bound for Germany. The boys become part of the slave labor camps run by the Nazis in Germany and later in Poland and the Ukraine, and the brutality and deprivation the boys endure are only slightly better than the Jewish death camps. The two boys depend on one another for survival, and they are at constant risk that their captors will discover Samuele's Jewish identity. When Samuele dies, Roberto escapes and must find his way-in early winter-from the Ukraine to the Black Sea. Napoli has written an absorbing tale of friendship and survival based on a little-known historical aspect of WWII. Readers will admire the loyalty and toughness of Samuele and Roberto and will be easily caught up in their efforts to survive the Nazi slave labor camps. This novel would work well paired with stories about the Holocaust or WWII or with survival stories.
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
The stories of World War II aren't limited to Holocaust narratives. Italy, although an ally of Germany, often was not treated as a friendly country. Young Roberto, at the movies with his older brother and a Jewish friend, becomes part of a round up when German soldiers take there's no other way to say this the audience. The young men are transported by train to Eastern Europe, where they become slave laborers. This is not an adventure story, and it's not for the faint of heart, but it's well-written and heartwarming, as well as heartbreaking. Highly recommended.
VOYA - Janet Mura
This book is based on the real experiences of a Venetian youth. The United States is at war with the Axis powers and American films are rare in Italy, but when one comes to Venice, Roberto, his older brother Sergio, and Roberto's friends Memo and Samuele really want to see it. Roberto and Sergio creep from their home (so Mother will not give them work) and meet up with Memo and Samuele. Sergio rips the Star of David off of Samuele's sleeve, and they go to the theater. The room darkens, the lights flash on, and German soldiers march down the aisles. The younger boys are herded together to the train station and into trains, separating them from Sergio. This harrowing tale of inhumanity, strength, and friendship begins in terror. Memo and Roberto protect Samuele, and Samuele gives them strength to withstand the horrors they see. Roberto and Samuele face hardships, death, backbreaking work, starvation, freezing, and fighting with others for survival. Samuele loses this last battle, and when he does Roberto is changed forever. He refuses to let go of hope and escapes; but getting back to Italy from Germany is not easy, and his struggles to survive test his will to live and his ingenuity. This is not an easy novel. It stays with you, haunts you, and makes you wish that people were not really like this, when in reality you know that war is hell and people can be savage. The book is beautifully written, and it is a good choice for novels about World War II, survival, or overcoming odds. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 4-9--Napoli, who has written in a variety of genres--fantasy, mystery, realistic fiction, legends--demonstrates that she has mastered historical fiction as well. Sneaking into the cinema to see an American Western during World War II has grave consequences for Roberto, a Venetian middle-school student, his brother, and two friends. The young male audience is trapped by German soldiers and transported by train out of Italy as cheap forced labor. The first project, constructing a tarmac, goes smoothly, despite wretched living conditions. Separated from his older brother, timid Roberto relies on his quick-thinking friend, Samuele. Both realize the necessity of hiding Samuele's Jewish identity from their captors and fellow prisoners. When a "shipment" of Polish Jews arrive and are penned near the labor group, Roberto uses his ingenuity to help feed two Jewish girls with his meager rations. After Samuele is beaten to death trying to save Roberto's scavenged boots, Roberto escapes. He is a displaced gondolier trying to navigate his boat on a modern Styx, a hellish river journey with slim chances for survival. Few books view the Holocaust from this vantage point; few readers are familiar with the Venetian/Italian connection to the work camps. Others will be interested in this story as survivalism from the worst kind of nightmare. Many children will be ensnared by the author's paean to the art and value of storytelling. Samuele's legacy is the nourishing stories that keep Roberto alive. An intense, gripping tale.--Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews
From Napoli (Trouble on the Tracks, p. 144, etc.), a powerful novel set in a vividly realized wartime milieu.

Roberto, a Venetian boy who is about to graduate from middle school, is so eager to attend a rare American movie that he makes a worrisome bargain with a boy who is always in trouble. On top of this small sin, he attends the movie with a Jewish boy, Samuele, an unwise idea when restrictions and dangers are multiplying. German soldiers enter the theater and capture all the boys; at first, Roberto can't make sense of what is happening to him. Transported to desolate regions, the boys are forced into labor building a tarmac; food is scarce, the climate is life-threatening, and survival seems remote. Now called Enzo, Samuele, who has a deeper understanding of the situation and who constantly watches for a chance to defy his captors, tells Roberto stories that become crucial to his sanity and lend a semblance of humanity to their desperate situation. When Roberto escapes, the book becomes a memorable survival story: He learns not to speak and give away his nationality, puzzles out the changing borders and alliances of the war, eats slugs in snow-covered streams to survive, and battles wild animals. Finally, by participating in the partigiano, who sabotage the war and work to hide endangered Jews, Roberto goes from victim to hero, seizing control of his life for a noble cause. Riveting.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141306001
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 205,727
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 630L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the author of many books for children and young adults includingThe Magic Circle, Zel, and Stones in Water. She has won numerous awards, including the Golden Kite Award and the Sydney Taylor Award for Stones in Water. She lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

The Film 3
The Train 16
Picks 28
Wasser 40
Barbed Wire 54
Stones 71
Boots 83
The Woods 101
Cold 119
Life 128
The Sled 146
Boots Again 155
Under Bushes 170
Fever 178
Stones 190
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 18, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

        In this interesting  novel , written by Donna Jo Napoli is

        In this interesting  novel , written by Donna Jo Napoli is a very interesting book it kept me
    Of my seat with all the action that was going on. It started when Roberto and his friends and brother
    Go to an Italian theater to go see a western movie. They had gone early in the morning to get there
    Early once they got there the movie was going to start but German troops came in and took all the 
    Italian boys with them. They separated the by age in different trains Roberto and Samuele went on
    Went on one train and Sergio and Memo went on another. Roberto and Samuele had not ate since 
    They left to go see the movie. On one of the stops two Italian boys decided to get off the train and
    A German solder shot one of the boys and the other one ran but got killed. Once they arrived to 
    The work camp they were given a empty cement sack they had to survive. If any boy died you 
    Were able to take his clothing. The first night it was hard for Roberto to go to sleep so Samuele
    Or as Roberto called him because he was Jewish (Enzo) told him stories. Roberto and Enzo he 
    To work on airstrips. One day Roberto saw a girl and her sister in a den full of jewish. After a
    Few days Roberto started giving the girls his egg and Enzo gave her his brot. They decided they were 
    going to eat raw eggs. One morning when he was going to get the eggs from the chicken koop he got
    caught and was sent to another camp. In the morning while they were working they found two dead
    Germans they took there boots. The next morning they had been jacked Enzo was atill fighting for his
    Boots he kept the boots but ended up with with his ribs broken. Next morning Enzo was dead Roberto 
    Decided there was nothing to lose so he decided to escape. Enzo thought he was going to get shot
    But he was not afraid. He walked until he found a village everyone was dead except a boy . The boy 
    and him collected food and left. They went to another town Roberto got shot before getting in the shed.
    Him and the boy escaped when everyone was eating. The boy ran away and Roberto found an Italian
    Solder and rowed away to Romania. BRANDON MARTINEZ

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  • Posted October 7, 2011

    Good book

    In the marvelous novel Stones in Water, by Dona Jo Napoli the plot is very gripping because it gives you an extreme amount of realistic feel to it. Just the way this story is written with incredible detail keeps you from setting the book down. Just the thought of the main character being a real life survivor in World War Two gives you chills that people had to actually go through that kind of everyday torture. Roberto the main character is just a simple Italian young man with a father who runs a gondolier. He runs into trouble the day he goes off to a theatre with his older brother and his two best friends Samuele and Memo. While in the theatre German soldiers barged in and took all the boys captive. All of the boys are separated except Samuele and Roberto. The two boys are forced to work at camps, to build air strips and retched barb wired fences for the Jew captives to be placed in. Roberto soon finds himself smuggling food through the barbed fence for a young Jewish girl, and her younger sister. I absolutely hate it when Samuele dies from fighting for German soldier boots. But I do love how Roberto thinks of the memories that he had with his best friend to keep his morale high. The theme in my opinion is even though you lost someone you dearly love they will always be in your heart. This story is definitely an amazing book that you must check out! Ages for this book is young adult or adult.

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  • Posted March 3, 2011

    A Joyce, a student at the gereau center

    A young Italian boy named Roberto and his friends Memo, Samuele and Brother Sergio are taken from a movie theater in Italy. They are hauled off to work camps and forced to work to help build air strips for planes during world war two. Let starving and over worked Roberto makes a daring escape from the camp and tries to get home.

    There were a lot of literary devices in this book I will mention a few of my favorite ones. My favorite part in the book that I think represents symbolism is when Roberto said that he could bring Samuele by his side with the help of stories and raise him from his heart. It symbolizes how even without his friend he will still have him with him through his memories, thoughts and stories. There is also personification mentioned in the book when Roberto was getting a fever from his infected gunshot wound. Roberto mentioned that the blood in his body was pounding in his ears. The blood is personified here because blood cannot pound so the author gave the blood human like characteristics. In my book there is onomatopoeia found such as "splashing(page 47)".

    My favorite part of the book was when Roberto decides to run away from the work camp he was placed in Ukraine. His determination to make it through Ukraine in the dead of winter makes me think of what a person could do if pushed to the brink. This part depicts Roberto maddened by loss of his best friend just walking into the wilderness of Ukraine and never looking back symbolizes to me how he felt like his life didn't matter after his friend was brutally killed. However, once he realized that no one noticed that he had left he ran until he thought he was far enough away that they couldn't catch up with him. He spends his nights in a strange forest and uses his common sense to find food and the will to keep living. He uses the knowledge his friend shared throughout his time knowing him to survive in this strange place. His resourcefulness in just how he survives makes this part my favorite in the book. Also it just gives me a deeper meaning of how the human body can take so much, yet the brain will find a way for it to save itself over and over again I believe that's what happens in this part of the book which is why I love that part.

    My least favorite part of the book was when Samuele gets brutally killed by the boys in the Ukraine work camp. Samuele represented the hope that was in winning the war for the Allies side. When Samuele died it was as if there was no more hope for saving the Jewish people. It was as if there was no reason to keep on fighting after he died. It was kind of messed up how he lived and went through so much for it to all end over a pair of shoes. That is why I did not like this part of the book.

    I would recommend this book to anyone because it brings that idea of genocide to life. It will also show you what people went through during World War II.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    I LOVED it can't wait to read the sequel.

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  • Posted December 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Emotions by the Dozen

    "A book of many emotions", those are the words I would use to describe Donna Jo Napoli's work in writing "Stones in Water". This book is about a Gondolier's young son who resides in Venice, Italy. One day he sneaks off to see an American Western film, harmless right? He will be back before anyone notices, just in time for dinner. Sadly that is not the way of the world, German soldiers burst into the theater and his older brother, his dear friend Samuele, and his other friend Memo accompany Roberto along on his trek through cold harsh reality.
    This book brings out the very humane part of us, characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy, and enlightens us with the real facts of what happened to these small boys. Roberto and his friend Samuele manage to stay together as they are transferred along to Nazi work camps for grueling labor, day in and day out. Roberto struggles with the worry that someone will find Samuele's secret, will notice that he is not like the other Italian boys. In order for no one to find out about his religion Samuele changes his name to Enzo. Samuele was willing to change his given name for survival. In this book you can tell the two boys were willing to do anything to survive, and to do anything for each other.
    Napoli does a wonderful job in explaining not only what these boys went through, but also how they went through it. The starvation. The backbreaking labor. The immense fatigue. All of it played a toll on the boy's minds. Enzo told stories from the Old Testament every night to Roberto, to ease his pain and help him sleep through the long, cold nights. When Enzo is taken from Roberto, he must rely on all of the things Samuele taught him before he became Enzo, and all of the things Enzo was able to teach him Samuele wasn't. Roberto lived on disgusting river creatures, hid in snow banks, slept in trees, trekked through cities with Nazi's around every corner, all in a desperate try to escape the camp where his friend died, and return to his beloved mother and father.
    This book not only made me think about the main characters and what they went through, but the Mother and Father, the people who would never know if their little boys were alright. Imagine being either one of these two. You are a concerned parent, and no one will tell you where your child has been taken, your heart is left to crumble in agony, in worry over whether they are alright. Or perhaps you are a frightened, scared little child who was wrenched from all of their safety lines, and forced out into a world of blood and fighting; a world where anyone would kill for a pair of boots to last them the winter.
    This one part in the book really struck home with me, Roberto shook his head now. He wouldn't believe Enzo's words. He couldn't. "My father brings home the newspaper every day. There was nothing in them about killing healthy Jews."..."Some news doesn't get printed." When people talk about the holocaust, I always ask myself the question of why no one knew anything about it. This segment made me realize why; people didn't want to involve themselves with the killings. They didn't want to dirty their hands in other people's affairs; they didn't want to believe the holocaust was true. Napoli tells us this blatantly, in an attempt to warn us of this deniability, to warn us not to do the same things they did.
    When you read this tale you don't just put down the book and never pick it up again, this is a

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  • Posted September 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Donna Jo Napoli you've done it again!

    The book Stones in Water is about two Italian teens who get kdinapped by the nazi's at the movie theater during, "World War II." Roberto is Catholic and Samuel is Jewish. They both escape and try to get back home. One of them dies in the book but I am not going to tell you who. For anyone who is interested in History or the Holocaust or loves Donna Jo Napoli's books this book is for you. There is some sad parts and happy parts. If you like this book you need to read the next book, "Fire in the Hills."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2008

    A fantastic book. Heartbreaking, but heartwarming

    This book is a heartbreaking novel of a young Italian boy, struggling to run away from the Nazi work camps, during the harsh winter of Ukraine. Donna Jo Napoli has outdone herself in this heartwarming book. It makes us realize how lucky we are to have a warm home, food, and a family. :-D

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2007

    One of the best books ever!

    This book was soooo cool. The emotions were excellent (if you know what I mean). I cried in the sad part, laughed loudly in the funny parts etc... EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007


    I liked the book it was cool.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2006

    MUST READ!!!! :D

    Roberto who is the main character is italian and has a jewish he is at the theater with his jewish friend German soldier mistaken him for being Jewish and so they take both Roberto and his friend to concentration camps. A few days or weeks later Roberto as escaped the concentration camp and he is forced to be sleeping in the winter he walks on after he escapes he comes to a small town which is all destoyed and nobody is around there except a boy who takes Roberto to his Reborto later on is trying to get back home he is..well find out by yourself by reading this very heartwarming and heart touching book!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2006


    An astonishing eye opening look at a widespread but little know method used by Hitlers system- carried out against HIS OWN ALLIES in the quest to conqure all. At the same time a inspiring account of human spirit, friendship and perserverence in the face cruelity. I recommend it as a must read to EVERYONE! As an over 50 person never having heard of this chapter of history before I feel it's important that it is not a lost chapter in the history of the Nazi movement.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2005

    I loved it

    It show how important friendship is how it was how hard it was for the children back in the days and how important to watch your child. It's good for childern and adults.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2004

    Surprisngly very good and suspenseful!

    I am 26 years old and had to read this book for a class I am taking to become a teacher. We had to read a book about a child during WWII and present it to the class. I was surprised at how good and suspenseful of a book this was for a person my age. I am not a person who reads often; however I had trouble putting this book down!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2004

    This Book Was Truley Amazing

    Stones in water is a great book to read if you are intrested in the effect of the holocaust towards jewish people and neighboring countrys during Hitlor reign. The suspence is great, so great in fact that i read the book in one day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2004

    Must Read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(^_^)

    Great book for kidz and parentz.......mostly parentz bcuz it showz how important it really is to be with ur child......also good for kidz who like a mix of fantasy and mystery!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2004

    best boook

    This book was great! I have never read a book so much action and emotion at the same time. I would recommend to anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2003

    Loved it!

    i loved this book! it was a little confusing at first, but i got it in the end...i liked it so much that i read it it i dont have any other books for you to read because i dont really read these kinds of books

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2003

    A must read!

    A fantastic read! The book follows a italian boy called Roberto. He is taken as a prisoner of war, along with his Jewish friend Samuele. He is forced to work and life is incredibley hard in the camp, the author describes with vivid reality the harsh conditions and it is not hard to imagine being there for yourself. The book is a an amzing story of advenure and courage. I would recommend it to anyone intrested in the severe conditions of wartime life. The book is different because it follows the story of a civillian and not soldiers. What made the book for me was the intence description, nothing was left out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2002

    'Great Book for Yong Readers'

    I read this book as a senior. I guess maybe I was a little old for in beause while I enjoyed, I thought it wasn't outstanding. I thought it was a belivable story, with an unquie plot. But I didn't like how things happend, and like story almost skipped around. (Ex. When Roberto got shot)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2002

    A Simple Review

    The book based on an Italian teenage boy captured and forced into hard labor by German soldiers is a very realistic survival story of one losing and gaining hope during the event of World War 2 is a good book to read.It has real believable occuring events compared to other books with things that happen in movies.I personally like it and recommend this to any reader of all mature minds.

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