translator (Spanish version): Teresa Mlawer
illustrator: Angela Dominguez
Candlewick Press, 2015
Young Mia has a problem—her Spanish-speaking abuela has just arrived from the countryside to live with her and her family; and Mia, who speaks English only, cannot communicate as quickly and effectively as she wants to. Which means that, although the two are developing a warm, loving relationship, the bedtime stories Mia wants to hear will just have to wait. Mia, in her exuberance, has an idea that sort of works: she attaches English labels to everything in sight—even her pet hamster’s cage—and a the two play “hear and say.” And, as they go about their daily activities, Abuela teaches her some Spanish words as well. A slow process for a little girl, with limited success.
But wait! Abuela has brought with her a red feather, dropped by a wild parrot who lived in her mango tree back home—and Mia has an idea that just might work! Convincing her mom to purchase a parrot they meet in a pet store—whom they name “Mango”—soon results in a close relationship becoming even closer and a newfound almost-bilingualism in the household.
Dominguez’s artwork, rendered in a blend of ink, gouache, and marker—“with a sprinkling of digital magic”—is perfect. The warm and vibrant colors, on a palette of mostly pinks, blues, yellows and oranges, complement the warmth of the story; and, unlike too many picture books that feature Latina/o characters, Dominguez varies the skin tones to reflect those of a real family. I especially like the illustration of a bemused Papi in the background, scratching his head, while Abuela offers a piece of banana to Mango, and the three—Abuela, Mia, and Mango—happily chatter away in Spanish, English and Squawk-ish.
Athough Abuela’s little house, the seashore, palm trees and parrots hint at the Cuban countryside, Medina chose not to specify where she comes from. “For very young children,” she told me, “I like to offer them what feels familiar—a city, Abuela’s town, the pet shop, the school. I think that leaving room for the child’s imagination allows her to place herself more easily in the story.”
Mlawer’s outstanding translation (in the Spanish version) is idiomatic and warm, capturing the nuances of the story and setting, and of how this particular family speaks and feels. For instance, “She comes to us in winter, leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers” becomes, “Ella llega en invierno, dejando atrás su casa soleada que descansa entre dos ríos zigzagueantes.” When Papi tells Mia, “Abuela belongs with us now,” in Spanish it becomes, “Ahora el lugar de Abuela está con nosotros.”
This understated, evocative little story of patience and love, intergenerational relationships, bilingual language learning, and adapting to change, is a treasure that will resonate with the youngest listeners, who will want to hear it again and again. Mango, Abuela and Me // Mango, Abuela y Yo is highly recommended.