Book Review: Tino and the Pomodori

Tino and the Pomodori coverTino and the Pomodori by Tonya Russo Hamilton builds an engaging children’s story around the growing, harvesting, selling, and eating of home-grown tomatoes. Equally engaging is the introduction of simple words and phrases in Italian.

Tino works eagerly with his grandfather to plant and tend their tomato garden. The life cycle of tomatoes is described in the course of the story, from planting seeds taken from the previous year’s tomatoes, to celebrating the harvest at the end of the season. Hamilton takes a more practical than scientific approach to growing tomatoes, so don’t expect a botany lesson–but sit back and enjoy Tino’s excitement, and the loving guidance of his grandparents, as they grow and eat their delicious pomodori.

The watercolor illustrations by Britta Nicholson are simple and rustic, suited to the story. The book is just out this month (June 2014) from Gemelli Press, and would make a lovely gift for a budding gardener or a young Italophile-in-training.

This is Hamilton’s second book. She wrote Wrestling with the Devil with her father, a memoir of his immigration from Italy and wrestling/coaching career. See my review here. Tino and the Pomodori is also adapted from her father’s early life in Italy.


Book Review: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales

bella.comp.inddThe beautiful language. The Italian language is the subject whose story is beautifully told in Dianne Hales’ book, La Bella Lingua. Subtitled “My love affair with Italian, the world’s most enchanting language,” Hales’ book is very thorough in presenting the history and development of today’s Italian.

Most engaging for me were the stories of her  falling in love with Italian, and the research on the book. Her personal experiences transported me to Italy, and brought me into the room for her conversations with various language teachers and experts, historians, and writers.

I also enjoyed learning more about the origins of the Italian language. She definitely prompted me to consider a closer look at Dante, and introduced me to several significant contributors to today’s Italian. I didn’t expect to find Galileo, but there he was. Verdi, Garibaldi, and many others–the famous and infamous–are included.

Perhaps food-related Italian words are most widely known in America–and a chapter is devoted to eating Italian. Other chapters celebrate art, love, and cinema, the Italian way.

For people with an interest in languages and linguistics, this will be a fun read.  For students of Italian, it’s a must. The book includes an index, chapter by chapter bibliography, and a discussion guide with questions. I recommend it!

Can I also encourage you to visit Dianne Hales’ website? Many great features will draw you back to it–Italian food and travel ideas, a blog with language learning helps, resources for teachers and students of Italian language, and a nice introduction to Dianne herself.

The cover of this book really appealed to me because of a dream I had in 2004. I was in Sorrento, studying Italian for two weeks at SorrentoLingue. About ten days into my two weeks there, I had a dream. I was in a boat, one of the colorful fishing boats found in that area, just me and the boatman. I was fishing with pole and line, but instead of trying to catch fish, I was fishing for words. Ever done that? I would reel one in and look at it, the Italian word I had caught, but it wasn’t the one I wanted, so I threw it back. Over and over, I cast my hook into the water but kept bringing in the wrong word. And there on Dianne Hales’ book cover–aside from the Venetian gondola rather than the fishing boat–I saw my dream depicted. And in addition to the book’s contents, the cover is a delightful reminder of my wonderful experience in Sorrento.

Ravioli con la zucca: Lessons in cooking and Italian

The Pumpkin, late 17th century by Bartolomeo Bimbi

I’ve been dealing with pumpkins this week, and the stores are overflowing with them. I have lots of pumpkin puree in my fridge and freezer, so I found a way to use some of it, and I’m sharing it with you. Cook up that zucca and make this for dinner! With many thanks to the Italian Food Net, which presents this cooking lesson in Italian with English subtitles.

Now be honest, can you cook this way? I’m distracted in so many ways–the Italian language in my ear, conversion from metric to whatever my ‘normal’ is called, the impossibly clean kitchen, and the friendly and attractive Italian chef who wants to help me cook up something delicious.

Aside from looking up recipes, have you learned to cook something by watching video instructions online?


Bonus Post: The Sicilian Girl

Celebrating 400 views of The Italian South! Thanks to all who have checked it out. I appreciate your comments.

A few days ago I watched the movie The Sicilian Girl, an Italian movie based on events in Italy about twenty years ago. The fictionalized story of Rita Atria, from her childhood in a Mafia family in Sicily, through her turning to the police in hopes of avenging the murders of her father and brother, is told in gritty detail.

I loved it!

For one thing, listening to the Italian language encouraged me–I haven’t forgotten everything I ever learned about Italian! To help with what I did forget, it has English subtitles.

The story has plenty of tension and action, and provided a different point of view for the events than news reports offer. The conclusion is tragic but satisfying.

If you’ve seen the movie (or when you have), share your comments here! Did you like it?  Why or why not?

And thanks for reading The Italian South.

Dreaming in Italian

At the top of my list, for my next trip and possibly any trip to Italy:  A couple of weeks (or a month, or three months) of Italian language school at SorrentoLingue.

In February of 2004 I started two weeks of study there, hoping to hack down at least some of the language barrier that stood between me and my research. I was placed in an advanced beginners class (thanks to some introductory Italian study and previous Spanish and Latin classes), and I had one classmate, Wakana from Japan, who spoke no English, and about as much Italian as I did.

How much can be communicated with those limitations?  I learned that Wakana’s home town in Japan has an annual festival taking a local god from their temple down to the ocean to be washed. I learned that she hoped to speak Italian well enough to attend a university in Italy to study architecture. She learned about my home town’s annual Irrigation Festival, and about the research I was doing for a novel set in the 13th century.

Vern and I walked around Sorrento, visiting the touristy places—shops selling ceramics and inlaid wood products, learning Italian as we bought coffee and pastries in the sidewalk cafes, and tickets for the bus to Positano. The ancient city walls, medieval cloisters, and brightly painted fishing boats in the Piccola Marina all delighted us, and kept the camera clicking.

About ten days into our two weeks of Italian study, I woke up from a dream. I was drifting on the Bay of Naples in one of those small fishing boats, an Italian fisherman at the oars. I held a fishing pole and cast out into the water. Soon I had something on the line, and reeled it in. Not a fish, but a paper with an Italian word written on it. Unfortunately, not the word I was looking for. Disappointed, I threw it back in and cast my line out again. I reeled in another word, but it still wasn’t the right one.

Perhaps it was my frustration that woke me, because I never “caught” the word I wanted! But I woke up laughing, and shared the dream with Wakana and our teacher, Elena, at school that morning. I had heard of people dreaming in a language they are learning, but my fishing expedition was a new take on the theme.

After our last day of classes, Wakana and I put our communication skills to the test. She joined Vern and I on a visit to Pompeii, about 40 minutes by train from Sorrento. As we wandered around the remains of the Roman-era city, we jabbered in a mixture of bad Italian, a few Spanish words, and her limited English. Then we saw a Japanese tour group with a guide explaining things to them in Japanese. Hanging around the fringes, Wakana translated into Italian for me, and I translated into English for Vern.  A little like the old party game of Gossip, I wonder if what Vern heard was anything like what the guide told his group.

I left Sorrento far from fluent, but far better equipped than when I arrived. We were able to manage much better during the following two weeks as we traveled. When we returned to Italy in August, we again spent two weeks at SorrentoLingue. With another leap in language skills, our travels were much more enjoyable, and research more productive.

Immersion language schools are available in many countries, and if your travel time is flexible enough to include a week or two—often the classes are half-day, so you can still see the sights—do it! Check out SorrentoLingue at