Tomatoes in My Lunchbox

Roaring Brook. Jun. 2022. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250763129.
K-Gr 2–A girl who recently immigrated from an unnamed country struggles to fit in while her teacher and new classmates struggle to pronounce her name. Inspired by the author’s own life, this tale begins with the protagonist’s first day at school as her new teacher attempts to say her name during roll call, but the girl doesn’t even recognize it. “The teacher says it like it’s too hard to understand. Then she says it again, one syllable at a time. It’s strange and sharp, and sounds like something is breaking.” And that’s just the beginning—when eating her lunch, a whole, big, and delicious tomato that reminds her of her homeland, it squirts onto her shirt, reminding everyone of how different she is. She tries to adopt a new, Anglicized name, along with a new identity, but she knows that it doesn’t quite fit. Plus, she’d be denying her true home and the person for whom she was named—her beloved grandmother. When she connects with a new friend by just being herself, the main character embraces her name, her culture, and herself. Manoli’s text is lovely and achingly poignant. The lyrical narrative has a dreamlike quality, seamlessly taking readers from the little girl’s present home to her country of origin. Mora’s illustrations are warmly rendered with inks, pastels, and crayons, and will immerse readers in the little girl’s inner world. The main character has light brown skin and her classmates have a range of skin colors and hair textures.
VERDICT An excellent choice for back to school and “new kid” picture book collections. This will resonate with many readers. Highly recommended.

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