Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.

Mango, Abuela, and Me
By Meg Medina
Illustrated by Angela Dominguez
(Candlewick Press, 2015)

mango_jacket_for_megIn Mango, Abuela, and Me, a far-away grandmother comes to live with Mia and her parents in the city. It is not an easy adjustment for either the older woman or the young girl, who has to share her bedroom with her grandmother. Even more challenging: Abuela cannot speak English, Mia doesn’t speak Spanish, and neither knows how to breach the language barrier.

“Abuela and I can’t understand each other,” Mia says to her mother one night.

“Mami” suggests Mia try the same approach her class used to help a new student learn English.

Mia loves the idea. The next day, while making meat pies with Abuela, she points to a ball of flour and says “dough.”

“Dough. Masa,” Abuela says.

“Masa,” repeats Mia.

Mia tapes word cards throughout the apartment to help Abuela identify objects such as “lamp,” “vase,” “cup,” and “blanket.” In time, Mia is speaking español and Abuela is conversing with the neighbors in English. Better yet, a beautiful bond forms between grandmother, granddaughter, and a parrot named Mango, who becomes bilingual as well.

This delightful book resonates with me on many levels. First, I am an abuela myself and have a daughter named Mia. As a first-generation American and a former English Language Learner, I know firsthand the challenges of learning a new language and the many benefits of being bilingual. Second, in a city as diverse and multicultural as New York, I believe it is important for students to maintain their native language while mastering English. Likewise, all of our students, no matter their native language, should have the opportunity to become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural.

I also like this book because it is a reminder that language is an important way to preserve cultures, heritage, and family memories. Through Abuela and Mia, we can see that sharing our differences can bring us closer together. Seeing the two characters overcome a language barrier also speaks to the importance of creating inclusive school communities in which all students and families are valued and supported.

In honor of every person who is in Mia or Abuela’s shoes, let us be compassionate to one another and instill in our children the love of learning  as well as the joy of being bilingual and multicultural in New York City.

Posted by Carmen Fariña

Former Chancellor of NYC Schools, lifelong educator, native Brooklynite, and proud abuela.