26 Must-Read Italian Heritage Kids Books

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26 Must-Read Kids Books to Celebrate National Italian Heritage Month

Did you know that October is National Italian Heritage Month? I didn’t, I recently found out, and I couldn’t be happier. I am half-Italian and could not be more proud of my Italian heritage. Italians immigrated here to America and had it anything but easy. They are hard workers who value family, and whether or not you are Italian, you may enjoy diving into some of these titles to celebrate the culture while learning history and geography.

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Italian Heritage Picture Books

Picture books are a great way to introduce topics, there is so much that can be discovered inside a picture book, regardless of age. We have compiled a list of some fantastic picture books below that introduce you to interesting people and stories.

Maria Montessori (Little People, Big Dreams Volume 23)

written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Illustrated by Raquel Martin

Maria grew up in Italy at a time when girls didn’t receive an equal education to boys. But Maria’s mother was supportive of her dreams, and Maria went on to study medicine. She later became an early childhood expert—founding schools with her revolutionary educational theories and changing the lives of many children. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the educator’s life.

Living in Italy

written by Chloe Perkins and Illustrated by Tom Woolley

Are you one of the 15 million Americans with Italian heritage? Ever wonder what Italy is like? Discover what it’s like to be a kid growing up in Italy with this fascinating, nonfiction Level 2 Ready-to-Read, part of a new series all about kids just like you in countries worldwide!

Leonardo and the Flying Boy

written by Laurence Anholt

Discover the world of wonder that awaits on your doorstep with this beautiful activity book from the author and illustrator of Natures Day. Learn how to spot different leaves, birds, flowers, and insects, make plaster-cast animal tracks, mimic birdsong, and write a poem inspired by a walk in the woods.

Strega Nona

written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Strega Nona—”Grandma Witch”—is the source of potions, cures, magic, and comfort in her Calabrian town. Her magical, ever-full pasta pot is especially intriguing to hungry Big Anthony.

He is supposed to look after her house and tends her garden, but one day, when she goes over the mountain to visit Strega Amelia, Big Anthony recites the magic verse over the pasta pot with disastrous results.

In this retelling of an old tale, author-illustrator Tomie dePaola combines humor in the writing and warmth in the paintings as he builds the story to its hilarious climax.

The Matchbox Diary

written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

When a little girl visits her great-grandfather, she asks about the collection of matchboxes harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Together they tell of his journey from Italy to a new country before he could read and write: the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman and acclaimed illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline tell a breathtaking immigration tale with appeal across generations.

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano

written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Bartolomeo Cristofori coaxes just the right sounds from the musical instruments he makes. Some of his keyboards can play piano, light and soft; others make forte notes ring out, strong and loud, but Cristofori longs to create an instrument that can be played both soft and loud.

His talent caught the attention of Prince Ferdinando de Medici, who wanted his court to become the musical center of Italy. The prince brings Cristofori to the noisy city of Florence, where the goldsmiths’ tiny hammers whisper tink, tink, and the blacksmiths’ big sledgehammers shout, BANG, BANG! Could hammers be the key to the new instrument?

At last, Cristofori gets his creation just right. It is called the pianoforte for what it can do. All around the world, people, young and old, can play the most intricate music of their lives, thanks to Bartolomeo Cristofori’s marvelous creation: the piano.

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei

written by Peter Sis

At every age, some courageous people break with tradition to explore new ideas and challenge accepted truths. Galileo Galilei was just such a man–a genius–and the first to turn the telescope to the skies to map the heavens. In doing so, he offered objective evidence that the earth was not the fixed center of the universe but that it and all the other planets revolved around the sun. Galileo kept careful notes and made beautiful drawings of all that he observed. Through his telescope, he brought the stars down to earth for everyone to see.

By changing the way people saw the galaxy, Galileo was also changing the way they saw themselves and their place in the universe. This was very exciting, but to some, it was alarming. Galileo has upset the harmonious view of heaven and earth that had been accepted since ancient times. He had turned the world upside down.

All the Way to America: The Story of A big Italian Family and A little Shovel

written by Dan Yaccarino

Dan Yaccarino’s great-grandfather arrived at Ellis Island with a small shovel and his parents’ good advice: “Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.” With simple text and warm, colorful illustrations, Yaccarino recounts how the little shovel was passed down through four generations of this Italian-American family—along with excellent advice.

It’s a story that will have kids asking their parents and grandparents: Where did we come from? How did our family make the journey to America?

In English, of Course

written by Josephine Nobisso and illustrated by Dasha Ziborova

Set in the Bronx during the 1950s, when postwar immigrant children were placed in their first American classrooms, this delightful story tells of the riotous linguistic misunderstandings of Josephine’s first day of school. The daughter of savvy Italian engineers, Josephine, has lived in the city long enough to have learned a few words in English but is overcome when her teacher makes her stand up in front of the class and tell about her life in Italy—in English, of course. The result is a charming tale of adventures and multicultural miscommunications as Josephine attempts to make herself understood. Children will understand that sometimes people underestimate the talent and dignity of newcomers to the United States and embark on a poignant journey as Josephine tells her incredible story the best way she knows how and attempts to understand her English-speaking teacher and classmates.

Peppe the Lamplighter

written by Elisa Bartone and illustrated by Ted Lewin

In the tradition of Lois Lowry and Paul Fleischman, Elisa Bartone’s Caldecott Honor-winning book gives children a glimpse into American history and the immigrant experience.

This is the story of Peppe, who becomes a lamplighter to help support his immigrant family in turn-of-the-century New York City, despite his papa’s disapproval. Peppe’s family is impoverished, and though he is just a boy, he needs to find work. Being a lamplighter is not the job his father had dreamed of for Peppe, but when Peppe’s job helps save his little sister, he earns the respect of his entire family.

A Picnic in October

written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Tony thinks it’s dumb to go all the way to Liberty Island for a birthday picnic. But that’s before he understands what the Statue of Liberty means to Grandma.

There’s A dolphin in the Grand Canal

written by John Bemelmans Marciano 

Bored to tears with working at the family café in Venice, young Luca gets the surprise of his life when he spies a dolphin in the Grand Canal and, after jumping aboard its back, is taken on a fantastic journey in and around the beautiful city.

American Too

written by Elisa Bartone and illustrated by Ted Lewin

Just after World War I, Rosina and her family leave Italy and sail to America, the land of opportunity. But when they settle in New York, American girls make fun of Rosie’s dress, her foreign accent, and her ethnic food. How can she prove to the world that she is an American, too? As the feast of San Gennaro approaches, banners, piles of cheeses, and unique pastries fill shop windows. Rosie, chosen to be the celebration queen, is torn between excitement and her desire to be a modern girl. So when she appears in the parade, the band suddenly stops, and everyone stares, for Rosie has a surprise for them all.

Elisa Bartone, a teacher in the New York City Public Schools, based American Too on an old family story told her by a great-uncle. There was a real Rosie who led the feast day parade. Bartone has molded this account into a tale that shines with all the enthusiasm and optimism of those who immigrated to America, the great melting pot.

Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero

written by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by Jacopo Bruno

Gino Bartali pedaled across Italy for years, winning one cycling race after another, including the 1938 Tour de France. Gino became an international sports hero! But the following year, World War II began, changing everything. Soldiers marched into Italy. Tanks rolled down the cobbled streets of Florence. And influential leaders declared that Jewish people should be arrested.

To the entire world, Gino Bartali was merely a champion cyclist. But Gino’s most outstanding achievement was something he never told a soul—that he secretly worked with the Italian resistance to save hundreds of Jewish men, women, children, and others from certain death, using the one thing no authority would question: his bicycle.

This compelling nonfiction picture book for elementary-age readers offers a unique perspective on World War II history. It’s a strong choice for units on the war and biographies of lesser-known heroes in history and sports.

The Pasta Family goes to Marinara Beach

written by Cory Tilson and illustrated by Alex Rodgers

When The Pasta Family heads to Marinara Beach for a day of fun in the sun, you know that excitement is right around the corner! But when the family dog (Ziti) wanders off of his leash, the family goes in search of their favorite pet.

Join The Pasta Family on their latest beach adventure, catch a wave at the annual surfing competition, and help find Ziti in a surprise ending!

Spaghetti & Meatballs Growing Up Italian

written by Diana Pishner Walker and illustrated by Ashley Teets

A book for all ages, Spaghetti and Meatballs is a personal memory lesson. Diana Pishner Walker takes the reader on an exciting journey of what it was like to grow up in the hills of north-central West Virginia from roots in southern Italy. Food, family, and holiday customs are enthusiastically described by the author and vividly illustrated by Ashley Teets. The result is a charming book that not only has broad appeal but also serves as an essential addition to the understanding of cultural diversity in our society.

Gabriella’s Song

written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Giselle Potter

In the streets and canals of Venice, Gabriella can hear nothing but sweet music. The drying laundry goes slap-slap, the church bells go ting-a ling-ling, and the lire go jing-a ling-ling. Soon, Gabriella is humming her way through town — and everyone hears her song! Some find it sad, others smile when they hear it — but none can forget the beautiful melody. Before long, a specific struggling composer is inspired by Gabriella’s song — and a beautiful symphony is born.

Angelina of Italy

written by Maya Angelou and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

In the streets and canals of Venice, Gabriella can hear nothing but sweet music. The drying laundry goes slap-slap, the church bells go ting-a ling-ling, and the lire go jing-a ling-ling. Soon, Gabriella is humming her way through town — and everyone hears her song! Some find it sad, others smile when they hear it — but none can forget the beautiful melody. Before long, a specific struggling composer is inspired by Gabriella’s song — and a beautiful symphony is born.

Tony’s Bread

written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Tony dreams that he’ll become the most famous baker in northern Italy. His poor daughter Serafina wants to be allowed to marry. Each of their dreams seems far away until Angelo, a wealthy young nobleman from Milan, appears and devises a way to make everyone’s dreams come true.

Big Anthony His Story

written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Fans of Tomie dePaola’s kindly Strega Nona will love this charming look at the early days of her good-hearted but clumsy helper Big Anthony. From the day he is born, Big Anthony never pays attention. As a boy, he leaves the gates of the farm open, and all the animals escape. As a young man off to make his fortune in the world, he accidentally “fixes” the leaning Tower of Pisa. Will Italy survive the hilarious mishaps of Big Anthony?

Maria Montessori (genius Series)

written by Isabel Munoz and illustrated by Jane Kent

Maria Montessori believed in the creative potential of every child—and she developed a brand-new approach to education, building on the way children naturally learn. Now, her methods, which won her three Nobel Peace Prize nominations, are practiced worldwide.

This fascinating biography shows how Maria, an avid reader, defied gender norms by earning a degree in physics and mathematics, became one of the first women physicians in Italy, and revolutionized educational theory—experimenting and refining to discover what worked best.  

Frankie Liked to Sing

written by John Seven and illustrated by Jana Christy

Frankie Liked to Sing celebrates the life of Frank Sinatra, whose iconic voice changed popular music forever and influenced generations of listeners all over the world. From his early days in Hoboken, New Jersey, to making it big in New York City, Sinatra was determined to follow his dream of being a singer and moving people with his voice. And now, one hundred years after his birth, his legacy lives on with this spirited and loving tribute.

Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook: An Adventure in Venice 

written by Claudia Mauner and illustrated by Elisa Smalley

Adventurous Zoe Sophia and her dog, Mickey, embark on a whirlwind trip to Venice to visit her great aunt Dorothy Pomander. During her stay, Zoe Sophia sees the sites, explores the city, and bonds with her fantastic, quirky aunt. Featuring fun, vibrant watercolor illustrations, this engaging scrapbook captures the landscape of Venice and the importance of loving relationships.

Guidos Gondola

written by Renee Riva and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman

Guido spends his days shuttling tourists along the waterways of Venice in a small gondola. The kindhearted young rat enjoys the simple pleasures of his world–until his eyes are opened to the possibilities of all that could be accomplished with a larger, faster vessel. As Guido is persuaded to acquire bigger and better boats, life becomes increasingly complicated. Just how far will he go in his search for true satisfaction?

Papa Piccolo

written by Carol Talley and illustrated by Hoko Maeno

The lion is the emblem of Venice, but the ordinary cat rules its narrow streets and alleyways. A prince among these feline rulers is Piccolo, and what an exemplary life he leads! Especially after dark- when the streets are full of possibilities!

Then one night, Piccolo makes a discovery that threatens his carefree life and his independence and starts him on a new and unique kind of adventure.

In these pages, you will also meet Caesar- Piccolo’s older and somewhat cynical friend, and Sophia- the shoe shop cat, to whom Piccolo turns for advice when his life takes its unexpected turn. And you will meet two irresistible kittens- one spotted and one striped- who need a home and help Piccolo discover his own tender heart.

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero

written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Terry Widener

In the summer of 1941, Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio and his favorite bat, Betsy Ann, begin the longest-hitting streak in baseball history. But when Betsy Ann goes missing, will DiMaggio keep hitting? Set on the brink of World War II, this is a spellbinding account of a sports story that united the country and made DiMaggio a hero when one was profoundly needed. Barb Rosenstock’s action-packed text and Terry Widener’s powerful illustrations capture DiMaggio’s drive and frustration. The book includes headlines, quotes, stats, and a detailed bibliography.

Download A printable version of this Italian heritage book list

All of the Italian Heritage Month Picture Books

These are not all the excellent picture books offered to celebrate Italian heritage, but they are many of the ones we have enjoyed in our family. We also shared a list of fantastic reads for kids ready to dive into early chapter books and middle-grade readers. Want even more books? Check out our Italian Heritage Book List on our Amazon storefront. We are constantly adding new titles.

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  1. Christine,
    What a great list of Italian Heritage Children’s books. Thank you so much! I hope you have a great year. Thanks for the inspiration.


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