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Angela Dominguez
Mango, Abuela, and Me

Mia’s grandmother has come to live with her—but she doesn’t speak English. How will they get to know each other?

By Meg Medina
From the September 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify the problem and solution in this realistic story about a young girl’s relationship with her grandmother.

Lexiles: 500L-600L
Guided Reading Level: N
DRA Level: 28
Think and Read: Problem and Solution

As you read the story, think about the problem Mia and her grandmother face, and how they solve it together.

She comes to us in winter, leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.

“Her old place was too much for just one,” Mami tells me as we make room in my dresser for her clothes.

“And too far away for us to help,” Papi adds. “Abuela belongs with us now, Mia.”

But I still feel shy when I meet this faraway grandmother.

¡Pín pán pún!

Papi unfolds Abuela’s bed and slides it right next to mine. “You will get to know each other,” he says.

But when I show Abuela my new book, she can’t unlock the English words. We can only look at the pictures and watch my hamster, Edmund, race on his wheel.

Then, just before we turn out the light, she pulls out two things tucked inside the satin pocket of her suitcase.

A feather—una pluma—from a wild parrot that roosted in her mango trees and a snapshot—una fotografía—of a young man with Papi’s smile.

Tu abuelo, she says, climbing into bed.

Snuggled in my pajamas, I smell flowers in her hair, sugar and cinnamon baked into her skin.

That night, I dream of a red bird circling in the sky.

Mouths Are Empty

The rest of the winter, while Mami and Papi are at work, Abuela waits for me to get home from school. Then we bundle up in thick socks and handmade sweaters to walk to the park and toss bread to the sparrows.

My español is not good enough to tell her the things an abuela should know. Like how I am the very best in art and how I can run as fast as the boys.

And her English is too poquito to tell me all the stories I want to know about Abuelo and the rivers that ran right outside their door.

With our mouths as empty as our bread baskets, we walk back home and watch TV.

“Abuela and I can’t understand each other,” I whisper to Mami.

“Things will get better,” Mami says. “Remember how it was with Kim?”

Kim is my best friend at school. When she was new, our class helped teach her English words. Now Miss Wilson sometimes has to say, “Please be quiet, girls. Others are working.”

The Word-Card Game

Angela Dominguez

After school the next day, while Abuela and I are making meat pies for our snack, I pretend I am Miss Wilson.

“Dough,” I say, pointing to the ball.

Abuela says, “Dough. Masa,” and rolls it flat.

Masa,” I say.

She drops a spoonful of meat in place. “Carne.”

Carne,” I say. “Meat.”

Pasas.” “Raisins!”

Aceite.” “Oil!”

Then I remember the word cards we taped in our classroom to help Kim. So, while Abuela fries our empanadas, I put up word cards too, until everything is covered—even Edmund.

Soon we are playing Oye y Di—Hear and Say—all around the house.

But that night, she still calls my pillow a “palo” and she says Edmund is a “gángster.”

“We’ll keep practicing,” I whisper.

A Special Gift

But the next day, I cannot practice with Abuela after all. Edmund has run out of his favorite seeds, so Mami and I have to ride the bus downtown to buy more.

Sometimes there are kittens sleeping in the pet-shop window. But when we arrive this time, something even better is behind the glass.

“Look!” I say. The window has become a jungle filled with birds! And right in the middle is a parrot staring at us with black-bean eyes.

I press my nose to the glass, thinking of the red feather Abuela gave me.

“Let’s buy him!” I tell Mami.

“But Mia, you already have Edmund!” Mami says.

“Oh, not for me,” I say. “For Abuela. Like the parrot that lived in her mango trees! He can keep her company when I’m at school.”

Mango Speaks

Angela Dominguez

When we bring him home to Abuela, she says, “¡Un loro!”— a parrot! We name him Mango, because his wings are green, orange, and gold, like the fruit.

During the day, Abuela teaches him how to give beaky kisses and to bob his head when she sings “Los Pollitos” to him.

Buenas tardes, Mango,” Abuela says, opening his cage door when I get home from school.

“Good afternoon,” I say, and give him a seed. Soon Mango calls to me even before we open his cage.

“¡Buenas tardes!” he says when I open the door. “Good afternoon!”

Abuela, Mango, and I practice new words every day. Mi español gets faster, and Abuela and Mango learn the days of the week, all the months of the year, and the names of coins.

“How did he learn all that?” Papi asks when we show him all that Mango can do. Abuela winks at me and gives Mango a piece of banana, peel and all.

“Practice,” she says.

Mouths Are Full

Before long, Abuela asks me how to say harder things too, so she can talk with the neighbors who stop by.

Has the mailman come?

It is chilly today.

Can I get you some cookies and lemonade?

Soon, when friends stop by to see Mango’s latest tricks, they can understand everything Abuela says.

Best of all, now when Abuela and I are lying next to each other in our beds, our mouths are full of things to say. I tell her about my buen día and show her my best pintura of Mango.

Abuela reads my favorite book with only a little help, and she tells me new stories about Abuelo, who could dive for river stones with a single breath and weave a roof out of palms. I draw pictures for her. She still misses their old house, she says, but now only a little bit.

Mango listens to us from his perch until my eyes grow heavy.

Hasta mañana, Abuela,” I say.

Abuela kisses me. “Good night, Mia.”

Hasta mañana. Good night,” Mango calls.

And soon we all fall asleep.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Check It Out

Your students will learn lots more about author Meg Medina by reading this fun FAQ!

Watch This

You can also show your kids an interview with Meg. We suggest the questions at 0:15-1:00, 5:27-6:59, and 9:13-10:21.

Check It Out

Explore the site of the book’s illustrator, Angela Dominguez. Ask students if they’ve read any of the other books she’s illustrated. Which ones would they like to read?

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: World cultures 

Social-emotional learning: Relationship skills (communication, relationship building, teamwork); responsible decision-making (identifying problems, solving problems)

Key Skills

Problem and solution, figurative language, making inferences, drawing conclusions, author’s craft, text features, key details

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. PREPARING TO READ

Preview Text Features (10 minutes)

  • Ask students to look at pages 14 and 15. Direct their attention to the title, subtitle, and illustration. Point out that abuela is Spanish for grandmother. Ask students to identify the story characters in the illustration. What does the subtitle tell them about Mia and her grandmother?
  • Have students read the subtitle and predict how Mia and her grandmother might get to know each other by the end of the story.
  • Ask students to look at the pictures and the subheads that introduce each section on pages 15-19. Have them read the labels in the picture on page 17. How is Mia helping her grandmother? Why might this be a good way to learn words in a new language?
  • Direct students to the second paragraph in column 2 on page 15. Point to the phrase una pluma in italics. Explain that these words in context mean “a feather” in Spanish. What does una fotografía mean? Tell students to pay attention to other Spanish words in italics as they read the story.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • We have highlighted in bold nine Spanish terms that may be unfamiliar to students and defined them on the page. Discuss the meaning and pronunciation of these terms, focusing on how they are used in the context of the story.
  • Preview these words by projecting or distributing our Vocabulary Skill Builder and completing it as a class. You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow, in which images and audio help students with comprehension and fluency.
  • Highlighted words: abuela, ¡pín pán pún!, abuelo, español, poquito, Los Pollitos, buen día, pintura, hasta mañana

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read and Think and Write boxes on pages 15 and 19. These features and the fiction package support the story’s featured skill, problem and solution.
  • As they read, remind students to look for clues that help them identify the problem facing Mia and her grandmother and how they solve it.

2. CLOSE READING

Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • First read: Read the story as a class. As students read, point to the Spanish terms in italics and help students identify the meaning of each one in the text. Explain that tu means “your” in Spanish. Use the Pause and Think question at the end of each section to check comprehension.
  • Second read: Distribute the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions to the class. Preview them together. Ask students to reread the story and answer the questions as a class or in small groups. (These questions are now also available in Google Forms, so students can type in their answers and send them to you.)

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes) 

  • Read the first section. What does Mia’s grandmother take out of her suitcase? (key details) She takes out a feather from a parrot that lived in the mango trees near her home and a photo of Mia’s grandfather. Why do you think she brings those items with her? (making inferences) They bring back loving memories of her home and her husband.
  • Read “Mouths Are Empty.” Why does Mia say that she and her grandmother walk home “with our mouths as empty as our bread baskets”? (figurative language) She’s comparing their silence to the empty bread baskets they hold.
  • Read “The Word-Card Game.” Why are words such as carne and pasas printed in italic letters? (text features) These are the Spanish words that Abuela says to Mia. Then Mia says the same words to her grandmother in English.
  • Read “A Special Gift.” What problem will buying the parrot help to solve? (problem and solution) The parrot will keep Mia’s grandmother company during the day. It will also bring back a happy memory from her previous home.
  • Read “Mango Speaks.” How do Abuela and Mango get along when Mia is at school? (drawing conclusions) They enjoy each other’s company. She teaches Mango to kiss her and to bob his head when she sings a song. 
  • Why is the last part of the story titled “Mouths Are Full”? (author’s craft) Mia and Abuela can now share their experiences and feelings because they speak each other’s language. Instead of the empty mouths from before, Mia’s and her abuela’s mouths are now filled with things to say to each other.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • Think about the problem that Mia and her grandmother faced at the beginning of the story. How did solving this problem change their lives? (problem and solution) At first, Mia and her grandmother can’t understand each other well. Learning to speak each other’s language enables them to share their experiences and their love in ways they couldn’t before.

3. SKILL BUILDING

Differentiate and Customize
For ELL Students

Help students make word cards for six to eight objects in the classroom. Each card should also include the name of the object in all the students’ native languages. Students can read aloud the word cards in small groups.

For Reading Partners

Have students take turns reading each part of the story. Ask them to pay attention to the end punctuation in the dialogue. Have them mark words such as said or whisper. These words and the punctuation marks will help students read the dialogue with the correct expression.

For Advanced Readers

Explain that this story is told from Mia’s point of view. Ask them to write a journal entry from Abuela’s point of view about one event, such as Mango’s arrival or learning to speak English with Mia. Have students read their entries.

For Struggling Readers

Have students listen to the audio version of the story while they follow in their magazines. Ask them to pay attention to the dialogue spoken by different characters. Have them take turns reading the dialogue aloud and identifying the speaker.