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5 Italian-American Picture Books to Read to Children

By Dominique Rose DiBartolo

It’s hard to educate children on our historical roots in a fun, engaging, and invigorating way. But thanks to picture books, we can find ways to teach our children at a young age the immense amount of pride we have in our Italian heritage. Through mesmerizing pictures and unforgettable stories, we can even teach adults a thing or two of what it means to be Italian. 

1. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

The ultimate Italian picture book classic by author and illustrator Tomie dePaola is Strega Nona. This book won the Caldecott Honor in 1976 for its skillful illustrations. The story takes place in a small village in Calabria, where a grandmother doubles as a witch doctor, helping all of the townspeople with their problems. Strega Nona is in search of help around the house in her old age, so hires Big Anthony to assist her. Strega Nona’s only rule is for Big Anthony to not touch her “magical pasta pot.” But while Strega Nona ventures out of town, Big Anthony is left to his own devices and clogs the town with pasta running throughout the streets!

2. All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino 

Author and illustrator Dan Yaccarino tells the story of his own family’s immigration from Sorrento, Italy to Ellis Island. The one item his great-grandfather took with him was a tiny shovel that each generation has used in their own unique way. With illustrations of the motherland, Little Italy in Manhattan, and family gatherings, Yaccarino’s story is relatable, educational, and heartwarming. 

3. Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone, illustrated by Ted Lewin.

Elisa Bartone’s Caldecott winning picture book, Peppe the Lamplighter, highlights Little Italy of Manhattan and the various jobs Italian immigrants worked upon entering America. One boy in particular, Peppe, is in charge of lighting the street lamps to which his father disapproves. But when tragedy strikes Peppe’s family, his lamp lighting is more than a job – it is the protection his sisters need. 

4. The Pasta Family Goes to Marinara Beach by Cory and Laureen Wilson, illustrated by Alex Rodgers.

A quirky story full of humor, this picture book showcases a handful of different pasta shapes as a family. With colorful illustrations and a story full of twists, this picture book is nothing short of memorable. Your children will be identifying the difference between ravioli and farfalle in no time!

5. Teddy Spaghetti by Dorothea Benton Frank & Victoria Benton Frank, illustrated by Renée Andriani 

This picture book was just released this month by best-selling author, Dorothea Benton Frank and her daughter, Victoria Benton Frank. This suspenseful yet humorous story is about a boy who brings spaghetti to school for lunch and is made fun of by his classmates for it. All too familiar for Italian kids, this picture book also explores the power in being yourself and being strong. 

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