Every Sunday, young Leo visits his nonna, who serves up a delizioso homemade pasta lunch for her extended family. These meals are clearly a big deal, but Leo wants no part of them. One Sunday, Nonna entices him to eat her stelline soup by telling a story about a young boy who sets out to visit his own nonna, with only the stars to guide him. Encouraged by this success, Nonna continues the story over the next few weeks, using each kind of pasta she serves – chiancaredde (paving stones), occhi di lupo (wolf eyes), spaghetti (string), creste di gallo (rooster’s comb), and farfalle (butterflies) – as elements in her tale. While reticent at first to mangia, Leo becomes enthralled by Nonna’s storytelling and soon he, too, is eagerly partaking in the family meal.
Caroline Adderson has done a marvellous job depicting a traditional Italian family gathering in Eat, Leo! Eat!, adding authenticity and character with the smattering of Italian words sprinkled throughout the text. The result is a story that is loaded with read-aloud temptations, creating a recipe that should be a winner in the classroom and during library story times.
Montreal mixed-media artist Josée Bisaillon (A Fish Named Glub) creates folksy illustrations using a warm palette, bringing Eat, Leo! Eat! to life visually. The reader immediately gets the sense that the large, loud family is close. Everyone is delighted to see each other – they crowd around the lunch table, all eyes on Nonna as they eagerly await the delicious meal she’s prepared and the tale she’s weaving.
This big-hearted book is about the magic of storytelling. It also depicts a family tradition that is sadly disappearing in our disconnected, techno-reliant society. There are no screens or devices in sight – family is all that matters. Readers will learn some Italian vocabulary and find out about different types of pasta (a glossary precedes the story and a two-page spread at the end features more pasta variations not used by Nonna). Not only is Adderson’s latest picture book a hearty tale brimming with love, food, and stories, it may give adult readers an idea about how to engage picky eaters at the dinner table.