Saludos todos! This week we are concluding the month of March, Women’s History Month, with a sweet, heart-warming tale about a girl, her grandma, and the company of a pet parrot. This week’s book, Mango, Abuela and Me (ages 4-7), written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez, narrates the beautiful relationship between two generations of women, and the way in which their love and familial bond ultimately surmounts their linguistic and cultural barriers. When the protagonist, Mia’s “far-away Abuela,” comes to live with them in the United States, Mia has to find a way to establish a relationship with her grandmother. Despite Mia’s Spanish not being good enough “to tell her the things an Abuela should know,” and Abuela’s English being “too pequito,” the two find a way to surpass these difficulties and conquer intercultural barriers through love, loyalty, and creativity. While exploring the intercultural challenges that many bicultural children face, this story also celebrates the day-to-day influence of positive, loving women in the lives of young children. Although many of our previous books for this month focused on extolling and celebrating larger-than-life women, this book takes us to a more familiar place: the sweet and simple experiences of an intergenerational family.
The beginning of the story introduces Mia’s Abuela who comes to stay with the family, “leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.” Although her home country is never named, readers can assume by her knowledge of Spanish that she is from Latin America. Additionally, the description of water and a warm climate may lead readers to assume that she is specifically from the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the lack of specificity enables a variety of readers from a variety of backgrounds to identify with Mia and her “far-away” Abuela. Although, of course, the immigrant experience is different for everyone, this book captures many of the familiar struggles of adapting to a new language and new home. Even I, for example, having a grandmother who lives in France, can identify with this story and the perplexing contradictions of familial closeness and cultural dissonance.
Mia is shy at first, and has trouble communicating with Abuela: “With our mouths as empty as our bread baskets, we walk back home and watch TV.” The illustrations expertly express the sense of desperation and sadness on Mia’s and Abuela’s faces. However, little by little, both the narration and the illustrations show how Mia begins to get to know her grandmother in ways that don’t rely upon language: “Snuggled in my pajamas, I smell flowers in her hair, sugar and cinnamon baked into her skin.” The illustrations do an excellent job of communicating the emotional ups and downs that Mia and her Abuela are experiencing as they grow excited about the time they get to spend together and discouraged by the linguistic barriers. A review by Kirkus Reviews reaffirms the moving effect of Dominguez’s illustrations:
The accompanying illustrations are charmingly executed in ink, gouache, and marker, ‘with a sprinkling of digital magic.’ They depict a cheery urban neighborhood and a comfortable, small apartment. Readers from multigenerational immigrant families will recognize the all-too-familiar language barrier. They will also cheer for the warm and loving relationship between Abuela and Mia, which is evident in both text and illustrations even as the characters struggle to understand each other.
This book would be excellent for young readers who are currently going through similar struggles or who are witnessing family members go through these struggles, as it is full of creative inspiration, encouragement and comfort. According to Miss Marple’s Musings’ blog, one way to integrate this book into the classroom would be to ask children about the other languages that they speak, and then reproduce the many language-learning activities that we see in the book. This could help immigrant children learn English, and also help native-English speakers learn the languages of their classmates, effectively breaking down the barriers that Mia and her Abuela are fighting against.
Additionally, as little Mia confides in and seeks help from her mother, we see a beautiful constellation of women’s resilience and support. All the main characters in this story are female and readers will delight in their consistent display of magnanimity, warmth and assistance.
As the story progresses, we see the various tricks and lessons that Mia comes up with in order to help Abuela. From interactive activities to marking each object in the house with a vocabulary flashcard, to, finally, buying a pet parrot, Mia, with the help and inspiration of the women in her life, learns to assist her beloved abuela.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- Scholastic lesson plan for grades 2-3, Celebrating Diversity, can be used with a variety of books, including Mango, Abuela and Me
Stay tuned for an introduction to our April themes for Earth Day, and some more wonderful reads!