When an elf appears in your room and offers to magically teleport to countries around the world, showing you foods from different cultures, the polite thing to do is agree. So begins Wally’s journey with Billy the Elf in Karina Moussa’s children’s book Wally’s Delicious Journey.
Parents of picky eaters might recognize their children in Wally, a young boy who only wants to eat candy and fries. But in first-time author Moussa’s book, Wally tries – albeit reluctantly at first – a variety of delicious and healthy foods from seven countries, including Syria, Bulgaria, Japan, Nigeria and Mexico.
Moussa was inspired by her life and experiences at her parents’ Pittsburgh restaurants, Madonna’s Mexican Food and Madonna’s Mediterranean Cuisine.
“Last summer, when my quarantine hit and it all sort of came to a halt and I had a lot of downtime, I always thought to myself that I would write some kind of book. “, says Moussa. “I’m not the type to sit around doing nothing. So I had this idea of Wellness Wally.
Once Moussa finished writing the book, she assembled the finished product with the help of a freelance illustrator, Lekshmi Bose, and a freelance editor, who asked not to be named.
Moussa grew up in Mount Lebanon and now works in health insurance sales while pursuing a PhD in Educational Management and Leadership at Robert Morris University. Her parents are originally from Syria, but they moved to Bulgaria, where Moussa was born, so that her father could pursue his doctorate in electrical engineering. They came to the United States in 1998 to visit a relative and decided to stay on an investment visa.
They bought a Mexican restaurant in Oakland to qualify for a visa, and Moussa’s father, Mario, learned to cook Mexican dishes – with his own variations. While they lost business when they changed the name from Pollo Rey to Madonna’s Mexican Food – named after Mario’s second daughter, who shares a birthday with the day her parents bought the restaurant – they quickly found customers, which Mario attributes to their dedication to cleanliness. and treat their customers like guests in their home.
“[The customers] come to the restaurant because we are the restaurant, ”says Mario. ” They trust us. They trust the work that we do, me and my wife.
Mario and his wife, Mahassen, moved the restaurant downtown in 2001. In 2013, after several moves, they reopened as Madonna’s Mediterranean Cuisine, although its origins as a Mexican restaurant can be found in the book by Moussa.
“When Wally goes to Mexico in the book, he tries the guacamole,” Moussa says. “When I was younger, I spent time downtown with my parents in the summer, and my dad let me make guacamole most of the time.”
Moussa has experience with many other foods that Wally and Billy try, from shopska salata, Bulgaria’s national salad, to kibbeh, his favorite Syrian dish. She says she wanted Wally and Billy to experience the cultural hotspots in each of the countries they visit, such as learning phrases in different languages or seeing famous landmarks like Aleppo Castle in Syria and Disneyland in Tokyo.
She also wanted to focus on countries which she said “may not always be seen in their best light.”
“For example, Syria… all we hear about is the wars in Syria and stuff like that,” Moussa says. “But I went to Syria in the summer of 2019… and that’s not what you see in the news. It is really peaceful and people live their everyday life like we live here.
The book is part of a series of seven books that Moussa will write as part of his doctoral program. She plans to use them as part of a program to teach children about different forms of well-being, such as physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being. Wally and Billy will visit a different set of seven countries in each subsequent book and learn how different countries approach these dimensions of well-being.
“I’m trying to promote a really important message, especially right now with this whole pandemic,” Moussa said. “The only thing about these dimensions of well-being is that they are all intertwined. So let’s say I was suffering in my physical wellness dimension – it’s just going to create a domino effect. “
To further help children engage, Moussa wrote a cookbook to complement the first one. Wally well-being book, as well as additional materials, including free coloring pages and mazes. She also sells a Wally well-being lunchbox to encourage kids to bring healthier lunches to school, and she plans to bundle equally relevant articles with future books to help kids learn more about their health and well-being and to keep up. involve it.
“It’s so much easier to be preventative than to try to fix a problem after it happens,” says Moussa. “If children can learn to take care of themselves from the start, to know these dimensions of well-being, to find out how they can manage different aspects of their well-being and be healthy and happy in the together I think that’s the most important part. ”
Even though her parents didn’t know Wally’s delicious journey Until its publication, his father plans to read the book to his grandson when he is 5 years old later this year.
“It was a very nice surprise. We are proud of her, ”says Mario. “I want her to feel responsible for everything. She’s responsible, you know. I want her to be proud of herself.
Wally’s delicious journey karinamoussa.com
Madonna’s Mediterranean cuisine 408 Smithfield Street, downtown. Search for “Madonna’s Mediterranean Restaurant” on Facebook