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From Tax Attorney to Mother to Author: The Making of My Heritage Book

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Becoming MORE Italian?

You may think your heritage is what it is–no room for changes. But, did you know that you actually can become MORE Italian, MORE Polish, MORE of whatever your ancestry may be? For those not sure what I mean, I'll tell you exactly how. Give birth to the first grandchild on one or both sides of the family and watch the Nonnas, Omas, and Babcis transform right in front of your eyes! They will turn every conversation, song, and recipe into a story of their childhood, ancestors, and traditions. Suddenly, heritage comes to life surrounding this beautiful new addition to your family. There’s no fighting it–this baby will learn to make meatballs, sing Sto Lat, or dress in green for good luck. Maybe we’ll have a chance to work on eating solids and sitting up first!

My name is Deanna Bufo Novak (note the Italian heritage and Polish/Czech husband) and I want to welcome you to my blog about all things heritage and world culture for kids. I am the author of personalized children’s books based on a child’s own unique heritage and the world around them and the founder of their publisher, kidsHeritage.

People often ask how I got started. What inspired me? The short answer–the birth of my beautiful daughter combined with my love of heritage. The long answer–about a month after Samantha was born, I felt an incredible need to teach her about her heritage. At the same time, I witnessed first-hand the transformation I mentioned above, as my mother became even MORE Italian (which I did not think was possible) and my mother-in-law even MORE Polish and Czech. Since Samantha was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, the pull of those heritage strings was stronger than ever. I don’t think there was a day that went by where I did not hear a conversation started by some variation of– "Well, we cook it this way, We sing this at every birthday, My grandmother had 13 children and she was still able to (insert pretty much anything)." One thing was for sure, they were going to make sure their traditions were going to get passed down. Or, more importantly, that those traditions (and maybe themselves) were not going to be forgotten. Despite initially thinking they were being a little extreme, I thought Samantha was a lucky little girl. I also thought every child should be so fortunate and My Heritage Book was born.

Realizing Samantha was not just Italian, like me, but also Polish and Czech from my husband, I searched for months for a tool to help me teach her about all three countries of ancestry. The search proved unsuccessful. I could find children’s books on Italy in general and on Poland, but nothing much for the Czech Republic. However, I did not want to buy three different books, even if I could find them all. I wanted one book, one special keepsake to help introduce Samantha to her own unique heritage. I finally decided to do it myself.

After making that life-changing decision, which included me leaving my career as a tax attorney behind, I had to figure out what was next. During my journey, I was told over and over that something like this could not be done. If you’re anything like me, this only made me more determined to get it done! I found an incredibly talented illustrator, Alicia Bresee, who, fortunately for me, fell in love with the concept. I then found a printer to work with and found and purchased binding equipment for a hardbound personalized book. Eighteen months later, we launched the very first (and to this day, only) book that is customized based on the countries of a child’s ancestry (up to eight different countries in one book).

Since those beginnings, we have increased our available countries from 20 to 110, launched three more books and various products, won a few awards, spoken and written on the importance of teaching children about their heritage and the world around them, moved from making books in my South Florida home to making books in Walt Disney World, and most importantly helped thousands of families introduce their children and grandchildren to their heritages to start building a strong foundation from which to grow.

I love what I do and am so grateful to get to do it. I hope that this will be a fun place to share stories about the most important thing to all of us, our families, and that we’ll all learn a little along the way. Remember, before you decide where to go, it’s important to know where you’re from!

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