My Mother’s Tongues: A Weaving of Languages

Candlewick. Feb. 2024. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536222517.
K-Gr 3–A young girl extols the virtues of multilingualism in this exquisite picture book by teenage human rights and social justice activist Menon. While not ignoring the challenges presented to new immigrants navigating outsider status, in Menon’s telling of her family’s story, she takes a strength-based approach. She describes her mother as having “two tongues.” She learned Malalyalam in her native Kerala and English, at age 12, prior to moving to the United States. The mother is mostly depicted as an adult through the eyes of her child, seamlessly transitioning between languages based on context, “hopping” from one to the other, her “two tongues woven together like cloth.” The young narrator explains that languages are like muscles, needing practice and exercise and that “a person’s accent holds hints about what their first language might be or where they might be from.” This framing is refreshing and will serve as validation to readers from multilingual families; it serves to illuminate multilingualism to those experiencing the story from an outsider’s perspective. The metaphors of weaving and tapestries are reflected in the impeccable and unique illustrations by Bell. Her mixed-media style incorporates elements of prints and textured fabric, further elevating her normally playful style with gorgeous textiles.
VERDICT This story is an essential mirror and window, serving as a reminder that language is a superpower.

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