New Pittsburgh children’s book author takes inspiration from family restaurant | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh


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CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig

Karina Moussa, author of Wally’s delicious journey

When an elf appears in your room and offers to magically teleport you to countries around the world, showing you foods from different cultures, the polite thing to do is to accept. 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 chips. But in first author Moussa’s book, Wally tries — albeit reluctantly at first — a variety of healthy and delicious foods from seven countries, including Syria, Bulgaria, Japan, Nigeria and Mexico.

Moussa drew inspiration from her life and experiences at her parents’ restaurants in Pittsburgh, Madonna’s Mexican Food and Madonna’s Mediterranean Cuisine.

“Last summer, when the quarantine happened and everything was shutting down and I had a lot of downtime, I always thought I would write some kind of book,” Moussa says. “I’m not one to sit around doing nothing. So I got this idea from Wellness Wally.

After 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 doctorate in educational management and leadership at Robert Morris University. His parents are originally from Syria, but they moved to Bulgaria, where Moussa was born, so that his 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 fulfill visa requirements, and Moussa’s father, Mario, learned to cook Mexican food – with twists of his own. Although they lost business when they changed Pollo Rey’s name 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 as 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 of Musa.

Click to enlarge Wally's delicious day

Wally’s delicious day

“When Wally goes to Mexico in the book, he tries 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 of the other foods 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 highlights of each of the countries they visit, like learning phrases in different languages ​​or visiting famous sites like Aleppo Castle in Syria and Disneyland in Tokyo.

She also wanted to focus on countries that she says “may not always be seen in their best light”.

“For example, Syria… all we hear about are the wars in Syria and stuff like that,” Moussa says. “But I went to Syria in the summer of 2019…and it’s nothing like what you see in the news. It’s really peaceful and people are going about their day to day lives, 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 says. “The thing about these dimensions of well-being is that they are all intertwined. So let’s say I’m suffering in my physical well-being dimension – it’s just going to create a domino effect.

Click to enlarge Karina Moussa, author of Wellness Wally's Delicious Day - PR PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG

CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig

Karina Moussa, author of Wally’s delicious day

To help engage children more, Moussa has written a cookbook to complement the first Wally Wellness book, plus additional materials including free coloring pages and mazes. She also sells a Wally Wellness lunch box to encourage kids to bring healthier lunches to school, and she plans to bundle similarly relevant articles with future books to help kids learn more about their health and well-being.

“It’s so much easier to be preventative than to try to fix a problem after it’s happened,” says Moussa. “If children can learn how to take care of themselves early on, learn about these dimensions of well-being, learn how they can manage different aspects of their well-being, and be healthy and happy overall, I think that’s the most important part.”

Even though his parents were unaware Wally’s delicious journey until it is published, his father plans to read the book to his grandson when he turns 5 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

Madonna’s Mediterranean cuisine
408 Smithfield Street, downtown. Search for “Madonna’s Mediterranean Restaurant” on Facebook

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