Planet Picture Book

Mango, Abuela, and Me

Mia’s grandmother arrives to live in Mia’s family home, but communication is a problem. Abuela doesn’t speak any English and Mia cannot express herself fluently in Spanish. Enter Mango the parrot, the perfect bilingual learning companion and teacher.

Abuela is Mia’s ‘far-away grandmother’. We are not told which country she comes from, only little snippets, like there being a wild parrot in the mango trees outside her sunny house. Abuela doesn’t just come to visit Mia and her parents; she moves into the family home permanently. You would think the two characters would have plenty of questions to ask each other and stories to share, but there is a problem: communication.

In one particularly moving scene, as grandmother and granddaughter sit on a park bench, Mia, the narrator, reveals that her español is not good enough to tell Abuela everything she should know. And Angela Dominguez’ accompanying illustration cleverly shows the story from Abuela’s perspective. No words are necessary; we can sense the grandmother’s sadness and frustration from the expression on her face – the pain in her eyes, her downturned lips – and tilt of her head away from Mia.

The narrative is sprinkled with Spanish words: Abuela, español, una pluma, poquito, un loro. Sometimes English meanings are provided directly in the text: “A feather – una pluma – from a wild parrot . . . .” On other occasions, the context provides a clear steer: “her English is too poquito to tell me all the stories . . . .” I love this technique. It adds to the essence of the story, drawing our attention to language, words and meanings. As the reader, we are placed in a position where we perhaps don’t understand everything that is being said, just like Mia and Abuela.

Then Mia comes up with a solution to the communication issue – or rather a series of solutions. She pretends to be a teacher as she makes meat pies with Abuela, pointing to the ingredients and providing the English word for each. And Abuela responds with the equivalent term in Spanish! Meg Medina cleverly ups the tempo as the two characters continue their exchange, and the words come tumbling out in both languages. It is a lovely domestic scene.

The major breakthrough occurs, however, when Mia insists on buying a parrot from the local pet shop for her grandmother, as both a companion and reminder of the wild parrot from Abuela’s far-away home. It’s a touching, thoughtful gesture and her grandmother is delighted: ‘“¡Un loro!” – a parrot!’ she exclaims. In the accompanying illustration she is beaming, hands crossed over her chest as the parrot fixes his eyes on her, beak wide open as if speaking. (He knows what he’s there to do!) Mango proves to be the perfect choice, a bilingual learning companion that loves to communicate and perform tricks. Now, as Mia and Abuela lie in their shared bedroom, they have plenty to say to each other. What a stark contrast to the awkward silence and frustration of the opening scenes.

Mango, Abuela, and Me is a beautifully written and illustrated book that radiates warmth and affection. Through perseverance, mutual assistance and the support of a friendly parrot, Mia and Abuela overcome the barrier of language and grow in love, confidence and understanding.

The Book
Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Candlewick Press, 2015). This picture book was simultaneously released in a Spanish version titled Mango, Abuela y yo.

The Author
Meg Medina is a Cuban American author of children’s and YA books. She has received many awards for her work, including a 2016 Pura Belpré honour medal for Mango, Abuela, and Me and a 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers medal for her picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia in the United States.

The Illustrator
Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City and grew up in the United States. She is the author/illustrator of several award-winning books, including Maria Had a Little Llama and Mango, Abuela, and Me which were both named as Pura Belpré honour books for illustration. She lives in Brooklyn in the United States.

Enjoy a few more illustrations from Mango, Abuela, and Me on Angela Dominguez’ website.

If you like the sound of this picture book, take a look at the YouTube trailer.

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