Hello, friends! Our book today is Tomatoes in My Lunchbox, written by Costantia Manoli and illustrated by Magdalena Mora, a sweet story of cultural blending and friendship.
On her first day of school in her new country, the child protagonist is dismayed to hear her teacher and classmates attempt to speak her name. When her mama and grandma say her name, it’s colorful and light and soft; yet when the teacher says it, “it’s strange and sharp, and sounds like something is breaking”. She envies the other children with names like Olivia, Sophie, or Chloe. She wishes her clothes and belongings and the whole tomato in her lunchbox didn’t seem so strange in this new place. She tries to imitate the other kids, but it doesn’t work – she is not like them, she is herself. Remembering advice from her grandmother, who stayed behind in her origin country and whom she misses dearly, she tries use a smile to lighten the load… and is surprised to find that while understanding can take time, it can begin with an exchange of simple kindnesses.
Warm and comforting. Based on the Cypriot-born author’s experience growing up in London, Manoli delicately yet authentically explores several aspects of the immigrant experience for children, including culture shock and social assimilation, while focusing on the aspect of having the pronunciation of one’s name change across language barriers. The child’s name is never revealed (though eagle-eyed viewers who can also read Greek will spot the personal Easter egg in the illustrations), but her dismay at hearing her name, a thing which is tied closely to almost anyone’s identity, become something unrecognizable in this new dialect is striking. It’s an element of crossing culture barriers that had never occurred to me, and was thought-provoking for both JJ and I. Manoli is sure to end on a hopeful and affirming note, and Mora’s warm and atmospheric artwork takes the reader on a visual journey that ties in perfectly to the tone of the text. The length is perfect for a storytime, and we liked it a lot. Overall, an affecting immigrant narrative that can help foster empathy and validation for little ones, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!
(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)