A Boy at Heart - Ambassador Magazine Book Review

The Publication of the National Italian American Foundation

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“A Boy at Heart,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in the Spring of 2019)

“Four days later, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, arrived at the Caruso home to celebrate Sam’s birthday, But until Aunt Nancy arrived, the evening wasn’t complete for Sam.”

In his new children’s book, A Boy At Heart, Ray Vento tells a story that, in some way, relates to all of us. The latest in Vento’s Sam Caruso Series about the life of a young boy and his adventures, this tory focuses how to respond to the troubles and expectations of growing-up. Young Sam Caruso is turning 8 years old and he eagerly awaits the arrival of Aunt Nancy, his favorite aunt who always fives “the best presents.” Reading Sam’s story will make adults reminisce about their own childhoods and favorite relatives and that’s a testament to the author’s storytelling. 

Vento is an Italian American author from New York City who writes stories from his own boyhood, what he refers to as his “golden years of childhood.” His simple, descriptive style leaves young readers intrigued and turning pages to see what happens to Sam next. Just as important are the childhood lessons Vento embeds in his books; they’re positive, practical, enlightening and applicable to all children.

The illustrations by Jay Mazhar provide an excellent visual accompaniment to the storytelling, with depictions of Sam and Aunt Nancy providing imagery to fuel the reader’s imagination. Kids will not only return to this story but also wonder where the next Sam Caruso adventure will take them. — Joseph Enzler

Leonardo Mascaro
A Boy at Heart - Primo Magazine Book Review
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“A Boy at Heart,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in the 1st edition of 2019)

Hard to realize, with its endless highways and urban sprawl, but, at one time, Los Angeles was a lot like New York and Chicago. The city was designed with a straight line grid to host a well-run public transportation system that took residents to a downtown of elegant department stores, fine restaurants and beautiful theaters. Ray M. Vento grew up in Los Angeles after World War II. The grandson of Sicilian immigrants, he knew his city at the dawn of the hydrocarbon age. He said in an interview on PRIMO’s web site, “Following World War II, as did so many other cities, rapid change became an operative description for how we lived…But what always remained was the beautiful landscape of mountains and ocean cupping the mushrooming of new communities. Back then, it was possible to take a Sunday ride to ski in Big Bear and have a family picnic at a local beach along the way. You would drive by orange groves and roadside farm stands. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s was amazing.” Such recollections inspired the author to conceive a set of children’s books in the “Sam Caruso” series. Three books, thus far, have been published. The main character is one Sam Caruso; much like Vento, a boy of Italian ethnicity living with his parents, a grandfather nearby, and kindly, God-fearing neighbors, in 1950s Los Angeles. In “A Boy at Heart,” Sam celebrates his birthday with a special gift from his Aunt Nancy. They are to see a play at the Biltmore Theater. All dressed up, Sam and his aunt take their seats inside - what was then - one of the country’s most spectacular theaters. The Biltmore was built in 1924, at first, to show silent films and, then, live plays after World War II. In 1964, it was demolished for a parking lot. “A Boy at Heart” comes alive in water color illustrations by Jay Mazhar. These are the kinds of heartwarming pictures we grew up with; before children’s stories were ruled by abstract and esoteric drawings. Ray writes a story that reminds us of when we were young; when we lived in close proximity to our aunts, uncles and cousins. When family gatherings were absolute. When a child’s birthday was to be attended by all and a happy time was guaranteed. “A Boy at Heart” is more than a tale of innocence. It is a book that reminds us what true fantasy is - not Never Never Land, but a time and place that should be resurrected, retained and forever valued. “A Boy at Heart” is exceptional!

Leonardo Mascaro
Nono's Pocket Watch - Ambassador Magazine Book Review

The Publication of the National Italian American Foundation

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“Nono’s Pocket Watch,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in the winter issue of 2012)

Beginning: Sam and Nonno Pete are sitting at the kitchen table. The morning sun pours into the kitchen through the window. Sometimes on Friday night, Sam Caruso and his mother stay at his grandparents’ house…

Looking for a sweet children’s book (ages 5-10) written from an Italian American family perspective? Ray Vento’s story about Sam’s relationship with his grandfather is a simple tale of the gift of an old pocket watch that was passed down through generations from Italy to America, and the misfortune that befalls the watch when Sam takes it to school. The book offer lessons about what’s important in life, family and heritage, and resolving anger.

Leonardo Mascaro
Nono's Pocket Watch - The Mercury News Book Review

“Nono’s Pocket Watch,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in September of 2012)

A story about friendship By Mary Gottschalk

As a child, Ray Vento says, “I was the listener. I listened to stories from my grandfather, my aunts and my uncles about coming to this country and adapting to it and assimilating to it.”

Vento listened well, and now the 69-year-old Willow Glenn resident has taken the knowledge he gained growing up in an Italian-American family and written a children’s book that is a gentle parable about the value of friendship.

The central characters in “Nonno’s Pocket Watch” are Nonno Pete and Sam Caruso.

Nonno is Italian for grandfather, and Nonno Pete is based on Vento’s grandfather, Peter Giugno, while Same is patterned after himself.

The book is about Sam going to a new school, meeting Oliver and forming a close friendship.

The two plan their Halloween costumes together, and when Sam visits Oliver’s home, they show each other their treasures.

Oliver has a Lionel train set with tracks, engines and cars.

Sam has his grandfather’s pocket watch, given to him at the beginning of the school year. It was a gift to Nonno Pete from his father when he left Sicily to come to America.

There is an accident with the watch, which leaves Sam upset and angry with Oliver.

It is Nonno Pete who helps Sam realize what is important in life and how to deal with anger.

Vento is candid about who the book is aimed at.

“I call it a children’s book and the audience is between the ages 7 and 12, but the secondary audience is people like me who grew up in those times,” he says.

Vento says his hope is that a relative reading the story to a child will share their own stories. “Listening to the stories of my grandfather and aunts was so enriching,” he says.

Leonardo Mascaro
Nono's Pocket Watch - The Italian Tribune Book Review
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“Nono’s Pocket Watch,” by Ray M. Vento (Review printed in August of 2012)

Nonno’s Pocket Watch is a feel good children’s book that teaches valuable lessons throughout. Ray Vento, the book’s author, touches upon some of life’s most valuable lessons, including confidence, friendship, respect and pride. All are core values Vento learned from his family. Ray Vento grew up in Los Angeles and was part of an Italian American family. Throughout his childhood, Ray’s family passed down Italian traditions and valuable lessons. The stories of Sam Caruso, the main character in Nonno’s Pocket Watch are loosely based on Vento’s childhood experiences. Sam learns many lessons from his grandfather, whom he calls ‘Nonno.’ It is geared for children yet it can also be enjoyed by adults. Vento’s goal is to take adults back to an earlier time so that they can share their experiences with younger generations and it accomplishes this goal.

Sam Caruso is a young boy just starting out in a new school. Before he starts school, Nonno give him a gold pocket watch for good luck. Sam is overwhelmed with appreciation for this sentimental gift. The watch is a family heirloom, passed down to Nonno from his father. Nonno’s father got the watch in Italy and carried it with him on his voyage to America. The story then proceeds to tell the story of Sam’s first few days in his new school where he experiences both joy and misfortune. Ray Vento uses Sam’s experiences to teach lessons of life, family and American pride.

The author uses the main character’s experiences to educate readers on important morals, ye he also teaches about his Italian American heritage. Vento explains that during breakfast, Nonno drinks his coffee from a bowl, an old custom he brought with him from Sicily. While in school, Sam meets a new friend that is unfamiliar with the term Nonno, and is unsure of where Sicily is. Sam proceeds to explain a little about his grandfather and the country he came from. Vento’s Italian pride bans through the pages of Nonno’s Pocket Watch.

He writes with immense detail allowing the reader to experience the book with all of their senses. He explains the feel of the watch, the sound of its tick, tick, tick and the glistening of its gold. He includes pictures, which gives a visual representation of the characters. Vento’s clear and concise writing make the book appropriate for young readers. The lessons of Nonno’s Pocket Watch are both timeless and ageless. However, it is especially appropriate for Italian American families who can relate to the anecdotes and traditions references in the story. Nonno’s Pocket Watch gives readers not only a story but an entire learning experience.

Leonardo Mascaro