Dive into Diversity: Italian-American Heritage Month!

October is Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month. The month-long celebration recognizes the many contributions and achievements of Italian-Americans in the U.S. According to National Today, “Over 26 million Americans of Italian descent currently reside in the U.S. — making up America's seventh largest ethnic group.” New York Public Library’s, 5 Picture Books to Celebrate Italian-American Heritage Month lists some great books to share with young children, and below you will find several noteworthy and fun titles for kindergartners to sixth-graders to celebrate Italian heritage and culture – buon divertimento!

Paolo, Emperor of Rome by Mac Barnett & Claire Keane
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / hoopla / Library Catalog

“A canine escapee gets his own Roman holiday. Paolo, a dachshund, would rather explore the streets of Rome than lie around inside his hair-salon home. Every time he dares to make an escape out the door, his owner, Signora Pianostrada, blocks her ‘Lazy Paolo’ with her foot. But one day, Signora Pianostrada starts putting curlers in a client's hair before remembering to close the door, and off Paolo goes. The pup's newfound freedom takes him all over Rome–for, as he says, unlike the statues he sees, ‘I am made of muscles, and can go wherever I please.’ He stares down cats in a field full of ruins. He becomes the leader of a pack of dogs. He even tries his hand at heroics. Above all else, he conquers the city, proving that he's more imperial than lazy. Barnett's theatrical narrator works in tandem with the hilariously pompous pooch to carry this rib-tickling romp with infectious bravado. Keane's illustrations feature thick black outlines and an earthy, Mediterranean color palette applied with the look of oil pastels. The beautifully textured architecture and action sequences harken back to classic picture-book artists like Ludwig Bemelmans, Dr. Seuss, and H.A. Rey. A pair of wordless spreads even gives the pup a wild rumpus. Though it's mostly an animal story, the human characters are racially diverse. Endpapers depict a small map of Rome with Italian labels. Molto bene!” – Kirkus Reviews

I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen
(Grades 2-5)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“It was Galileo's passion that got him into trouble, but his dedication to finding the truth meant that his work endures. This distillation of the famed astronomer's life focuses on his exceptional talent for scientific inquiry. Christensen uses a first-person narration that brings readers close to Galileo's development as a scholar and a scientist. The narrative recounts his childhood in Pisa (‘center of my parents' universe’), surrounded by music and mathematics and encouraged to ask questions in search of the truth. He describes his rise in the academic community and his invention of a calculating compass and ‘the world's first truly scientific telescope.’ Finally, he details the events that led to his humiliation and imprisonment for his scholarship in support of a Copernican view of the solar system. Christensen's bold lines and bright, warm gouache wash illustration support every part of the account. The handsome cover and title-page opening emphasize Galileo's particular delight in observing the stars and the movements of heavenly bodies with a telescope of his own design. A small illuminated circle, the room in which Galileo met the Inquisition, is set against a somber blue-black background, a striking contrast with earlier pages showing the warm and heavenly blue of the night sky under Galileo's observation. Maps and diagrams within the narrative help guide readers. A timeline spanning the years both before and after Galileo's life, brief lists of his inventions, experiments and discoveries, a glossary and list of sources extend the work. An accessible, inviting and attractive introduction to Galileo.” – Kirkus Reviews

Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy by Tomie dePaola
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“In Northern Italy, legend has it that the weather is so cold during the last three days of January that the white doves that take shelter in the chimney tops emerge black from soot. The Italians call this time of year ‘Le Giornate della Merla’ (the Days of the Blackbird), and thereby hangs a tale-or, at least, it has inspired dePaola to create this well-seasoned offering. As he explains in an afterword, his story is a sort of Italian ‘Emperor's Nightingale,’ featuring a duke, his devoted daughter and a particularly beautiful white dove whose sweet song sustains the nobleman through a long winter of illness. DePaola spins the tale with panache, imbuing it with a folktale-like timelessness, and artistically it's clear he was delighted to return once again to his beloved Italy for visual cues. The pages radiate warmth, from the picturesque late medieval setting and the terra cotta or blue-green houses with their tiled roofs, to the jewel-colored birds and flowers of the duke's garden. A sprinkling of Italian words and phrases adds an authentic flavor.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons by Tomie dePaola
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“The overworked baker's daughter, Bambolona, feels unappreciated at the bakery, so she goes to Strega Nona for help, who offers to teach Bambolona her magic. Big Anthony tries to trick Strega Nona into teaching him, too, and–as usual–his blunders hilariously backfire. DePaola's jovial colored-ink and watercolor-paint illustrations add warmth to this Calabria tale perfect for Strega Nona's fans.” – Horn Book Guide

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“A white Italian boy emigrates from Florence to New York during World War II, leaving a beloved stone lion behind in the Piazza della Signoria. Growing up with art ‘around every corner, and in every piazza, and in the museum where his father worked,’ Renato greets his leonine favorite each morning before school, saying ‘buona sera’ as he and his father walk home each night. Tense signs of war appear, with occupying soldiers speaking ‘a language Renato didn't understand.’ When Renato's father reveals that precious sculptures such as Michelangelo's David are being encased in protective brick enclosures, the boy dashes away, trying to use bricks to shield his lion. In a poignant dream sequence, Renato rides the lion throughout the city. Just before their family's departure, Renato's father shows him that the lion has indeed been protected with bricks. Years later, white-haired Renato observes his granddaughter's connection with a marble lion at the New York Public Library, which engenders a full-circle trip back to Florence. DiLorenzo's often lovely watercolors are best when capturing nature. The endpapers' sun-washed Florence and Renato's dream-ride over the moonlit Ponte Vecchio are lovely… DiLorenzo's careful research yields a touching tale about art's ability to deeply affect both adults and children. – Kirkus Reviews

Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
(Grades K-2)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“The irrepressible Olivia is back—this time on a trip to Venice that hits the tourist hotspots and allows Olivia to be her precocious porcine best. The plot is episodic, but Caldecott Honor artist Falconer’s inventive and droll artwork offers exuberance (and gelato) in nearly every scene, and Olivia’s curiosity and strong sense of self remain intact. The contrast between the antic lines of the charcoal and gouache paintings superimposed over gorgeous color photographs provides much hilarity. As Olivia plaintively holds out corn kernels at the Piazza San Marco, a page turn shows her face full of horror as the pigeons descend like Hitchcock’s birds. Falconer’s understated text is both witty and subtle; when the gondola emerges from under the Bridge of Sighs, ‘Olivia sighed.’ And he remains attuned to the way children think; when Olivia is searched at the airport for weapons, ‘She was very pleased.’ The preposterous ending involves Olivia’s finding the perfect souvenir (‘one of the actual Stones of Venice’) and the resulting collapse of a bell tower. This comic sequel is as delightful as its predecessors. – Publisher’s Weekly

The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero by Amalia Hoffman
(Grades K-4)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“An extraordinary athlete was also an extraordinary hero. Gino Bartali grew up in Florence, Italy, loving everything about riding bicycles. After years of studying them and years of endurance training, he won the 1938 Tour de France. His triumph was muted by the outbreak of World War II, during which Mussolini followed Hitler in the establishment of anti-Jewish laws. In the middle years of the conflict, Bartali was enlisted by a cardinal of the Italian church to help Jews by becoming a document courier. His skill as a cyclist and his fame helped him elude capture until 1944. When the war ended, he kept his clandestine efforts private and went on to win another Tour de France in 1948. The author's afterword explains why his work was unknown. Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, honored him as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2013. Bartali's is a life well worth knowing and well worthy of esteem. Fedele's illustrations in mostly dark hues will appeal to sports fans with their action-oriented scenes. Young readers of World War II stories will gain an understanding from the somber wartime pages. What makes one person step into danger to help others? A question worthy of discussion, with this title as an admirable springboard.” – Kirkus Reviews

Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm
(Grades 4-6)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“Newbery Honor author Holm (Our Only May Amelia) conjures a nostalgic 1953 New Jersey summer in this novel with a plucky 11-year-old narrator at its center. Penny divides her time between two extremes: her overprotective single mother (who is ‘afraid of just about everything that involves fun’) and the maternal grandparents with whom she lives, and her deceased father's colorful Italian family. Despite her passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers and gentle comic voice, Penny emerges primarily as an observer witnessing the antics of her more zany relatives, including her favorite uncle Dominic who lives in his car, her scheming cousin Frankie (who doubles as her best friend) and her perennially black-clad grandmother Nonny, who lives to feed people and feuds with her daughter-in-law, an ex-Rockette. In the conflict between Penny and her mother's beau, the narrative offers a fresh take on a familiar plight. The relaxed pace picks up after an accident lands Penny in the hospital and she overhears a rumor about her father. Holm includes telling historical details, including information about WWII Italian internment camps and how Penny's mother will not allow her to swim in a public pool or visit a movie theater because of the risk of polio. Readers will enjoy observing Penny's growth, how she mediates a peace among her family members and offers a glimmer of heaven.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
(Grades 4-6)
OverDrive / hoopla / Library Catalog

“Thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli dreams of being a hero in Nazi-occupied Florence. It's a tricky business living in an occupied city. The Allies are advancing from the south, Paolo's father is missing (thought to be fighting for the Partisans), and the Crivelli family is caught between the Nazi occupiers and the sometimes ruthless Partisans. This first novel by acclaimed children's picture-book writer and illustrator Hughes expertly captures the tension in the Crivelli home, as Rosemary tries to raise her two children and keep them safe while covertly supporting the Partisan cause. Not so easy with a son like Paolo, who risks sneaking out at night on his bicycle, looking for his own way to be a hero for the cause. There are plenty of heroes here, as layers of resistance to the Nazis are carefully delineated—the obvious bold resistance of the Partisans in the countryside, Rosemary's agreement to house escaped prisoners of war in her cellar, a lifesaving tip from the captain of the local military police and even a sympathetic member of the Gestapo who conveniently finds nothing when searching the Crivellis' cellar. The townspeople, a dog and even Paolo's bicycle play a role in the resistance movement, though the dangers and the realities of war are always tangible in this fine novel. A superb historical thriller.” – Kirkus Reviews

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent
(Grades 4-6)
OverDrive / hoopla / Library Catalog

“When his eighth-grade class is assigned to write about their ancestors' journey to America, Joseph Calderaro has a problem: Who are his ancestors? Joseph was adopted from Korea. His parents are raising him in their Italian-American tradition. But though his favorite foods are calamari and eggplant parmesan, Joseph wonders about the sturdy Korean kid he sees in the mirror. His parents have no information to share. When Joseph befriends Yongsu, whose Korean-American family has just moved into the neighborhood, Yongsu's mother treats Joseph with wary suspicion. His attempts to uncover his Korean roots frustrated, Joseph makes some up, passing off a famous Korean athlete as his grandfather. After his essay is chosen for submission to a national contest, Joseph must come clean. Despite its lighthearted tone, this first novel does justice to complex issues, from anxious adoptive parents to birth-parent searches. Joseph makes a funny, engaging tour guide to the world of transcultural adoption. Seasoned with familiar angst-provoking adolescent preoccupations—dating and embarrassing parents—Joseph's story makes for an entertaining fictional stew.” – Kirkus Reviews

Madeline and the Cats of Rome by John Bemelmans Marciano
(Grades K-2)
Library Catalog

“Having inched his way into his grandfather's spotlight with a Madeline board book and other tie-ins, Marciano tries out a full-dress solo performance here—and makes the grade nicely. Looking and sounding just like the classic episodes, this all-original outing takes Madeline and her schoolmates on a rhymed trip to sunny Rome where, after visiting the Sistine Chapel and other familiar sights, she and Genevieve hare off after a young thief who snatches Miss Clavel's camera. After a brisk chase they reclaim the camera, but find themselves (briefly) under arrest and also saddled with an entire old houseful of stray cats. Though an unexplained general costume change partway through breaks the visual continuity, Marciano sketches children, tourists and their surroundings with that old, loose, familiar vim—in (as further homage) alternate sets of full-color scenes and pages in yellow and black. Like the newer Amelia Bedelias, this doesn't exactly take the perennial favorite in new directions, but it does seamlessly extend the series.” – Kirkus Reviews

Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook: An Adventure in Venice by Claudia Mauner & Elisa Smalley
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“Aspiring globetrotters will enjoy meeting Zoe Sophia, a sophisticated but sweet nine-year-old New Yorker who shares her scrapbook-in-progress during a voyage to Venice in this kicky picture-book travelogue. Though the narrator adores her big-city life, she eagerly anticipates a trip to Italy to visit her beloved great-aunt Dorothy, with her constant companion, Mickey the dachshund, in tow. Girl and dog immediately embrace Dorothy's version of la dolce vita, touring art galleries and landmarks, riding a vaporetto (‘like a boat-bus’) and gondola, attending the opera and enjoying Italian cuisine. But when Mickey disappears one afternoon, things threaten to go sour. Happily, a tidy Zoe-Mickey reunion ensures more bright spots in the vacation. Making their children's book debuts, Mauner and Smalley (college friends) create a sensory experience of one of the world's great cities via the eyes of a spirited yet never obnoxious heroine. Italian words and phrases (with parenthetical definitions), names of historic sites and descriptions of various customs pepper Zoe's easy-flowing entries. The text sustains a nice balance between Zoe Sophia's appropriate sense of wonder, and a slightly precocious tone. Throughout, Mauner delivers a distinct sense of place with her watercolor-and-India ink compositions. Her scenes—some full-page paintings, some framed to look like scrapbook photos—incorporate humorous and factual details that lend her setting and characters copious personality (a window view of a ‘gondola repair shop’ looks like a backdrop to a Chirico painting; funky boots, striped stockings and trendy glasses). Readers may well shout, ‘Brava!’ and wish for the heroine's swift return.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop by Tamar Meir
(Grades 2-4)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“Very few people have heard of Francesco Tirelli, one of the multitude of unsung heroes and heroines of World War II. Nor have they heard about how this Italian gelato aficionado emigrated to Hungary, opened a successful ice cream parlor in the middle of Budapest, and, years later, quietly saved many of his Jewish friends and neighbors. But if author Tamar Meir has her way, Tirelli's obscurity will become a thing of the past. A touching nonfiction picture story book for middle grade readers ages 7-12, this moving tale shows how one person's courage can make all the difference in the world. Much in keeping with Francesco's quiet heroism, Meir's tale of delicious desserts across cultures and intergenerational friendship—along with Yael Albert's gentle color illustrations—merely hints at the horrors behind the history, without glossing over events. As the story goes, during the last winter of the war, when the Jews of Budapest were in great peril and the demand for ice cream low, Francesco Tirelli hid local Jewish residents in his shop—including his young friend and ice cream lover, Peter—thus saving their lives. Embedded in the book as an extra layer is a Hanukkah story, but frankly, that's icing on this book's ice cream cake. Francesco Tirelli's Ice Cream Shop closes with a brief but welcome epilogue about World War II and the Holocaust. There we discover that the author is the daughter-in-law of Peter, the young ice cream lover that Francesco Tirelli saved all those many years ago.” – Kirkus Reviews

Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
(Grades 3-5)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“In this cracked ‘careful what you wish for’ tale, first in the Julius Zebra series, a dim-witted talking zebra inadvertently trades an unhappy existence in the African plains to train in the art of gladiatorial combat. Disgusted by the lake where all the animals bathe, drink, and poop, Julius wanders off, only to be kidnapped by centurions and shipped off to Rome with other wild beasts destined to become fodder for the Colosseum’s gladiators. Northfield, creator of the Derek the Sheep comic strip, introduces some ancient history along the way (the page numbers are written in Roman numerals, a glossary defines several English and Latin terms, and fellow captive Cornelius the warthog sums up the Romans by saying, ‘Basically, they want to take over lots of other strange lands—mainly by beating everyone up!’), but the screwball comedy is what will pull readers in. Julius is slightly daft, but he can be cocky, too: if Greg Heffley were a zebra, this might be his diary, complete with scratchy cartoon illustrations of the goings-on as Julius and his friends attempt to outwit death.” – Publisher’s Weekly

All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino
(Grades K-3)
OverDrive / Library Catalog

“With clarity and deep affection, Yaccarino turns his family history into a story of enduring charm. He tells it in the first person: how his great-grandfather Michele Iaccarino was given a little shovel, the better to help out on the family farm in Sorrento, Italy. When Michele left for America, his parents gave him the little shovel and told him to work hard, enjoy life and love his family. The shovel becomes a talisman through the generations, as Michele—now renamed Michael—uses it in the bakery where he first works, and his son uses the shovel to measure beans and olives in the market and later in his restaurant, and his son opens a barbershop and uses the little shovel to pour salt on the sidewalk when it snows. His son is the author and illustrator, whose children now use the little shovel for the zucchini, tomatoes and strawberries they grow on their NYC terrace. The illustrations evoke each generation's clothing, hair, posture and adornment exquisitely with simple forms, and facial features convey myriad emotions with the sparest line. The author closes with his great-grandparents' advice—work hard, enjoy life and love family—and the back cover encourages readers to discover their own family stories. A gloriously warm celebration.” – Kirkus Reviews

Categories: Authors & Books, Featured, Homepage Kids, Kids, and Library News.

Comments

  1. P Calabrese

    This is just amazing. I am an adult and read every book description here and will probably go on to read a few of them. As an Italian-American searching for something about my heritage during this month, this list of books just gave me the positive feeling that I needed. Thank you so much to whoever put this list of books together.

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