Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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My Mom is a Foreigner but Not to Me by Julianne Moore

My mom is not a foreigner cover imageI love this book so very much
I can read it ten good times
She represents a child’s experience
With such cool, catchy rhymes

This book by Julianne Moore, primarily written in ABCB rhyming quatrain stanzas, is a first person narrative from the perspective of a dozen different children, which talks about the varied experiences of a child living in the U.S. with a mother from another country. The illustrator, Meilo So has chosen a “framed” illustration style which, other than the fact that it leaves a lot of white space on the page is successful at providing images for many different aspects of the “story” simultaneously.
Not only do I like the fact that Moore’s rhyme is perfect ninety per cent of the time, the text shows the dynamic conflicts faced by children who love their mothers but experience, with a little shame, all of the ways in which their mother is different from other mothers and people they encounter daily, including their different food and culturally different greeting and doting customs. The children also communicate their discomfort with their mothers’ use of a different language in communicating with them and their mothers’ slow mastery of English as their second language.
Most of the children from whose voice the book is written appear to be between the ages of 7-11. While there are several pages in the book illustrating the mothers caring for a second child in the infant/toddler age range, there is only one page in the book that shows a mother and father together (in a photo on a dresser) so children living in single-mother led households can easily find a reflection of their family construct in this book.
Most of the mother-child relationships in the book are clearly representative of an interracial family (even though we don’t see fathers) with children who look racially different from their mothers. Moore and Meilo So cover the full gamut of children who look racially different from their mothers whether the mothers are East Asian, Subsaharan African, or Dutch with children whose features present as the entire world spectrum of all racial/ethnic features. Meilo So does not just throw kids on the page who are holding hands with mothers—no, her vivid, emotionally realistic, water color illustrations are done with such attention to detail that on one page there is a brown-skinned, gele scarf wearing mother with her pale-skinned, red-haired daughter who the reader can see look exactly alike–like twins except their skin color, height, and weight are different. The “twin” mother and daughter are walking up the stairs as a boy behind them keeps staring at them and a mother holding a child that is like her in every obvious way walks towards them staring at them with a surprised, questioning look on her face. The text that goes along with this illustration speaks of the emotional weight a child faces when her features are just like her mom’s but because of different racial markers people don’t always see their likeness:

“Some people say we look alike
Others wonder: What’s HER name?
I get so upset when they say,
“Why don’t you look the same?””

Finally, this book ends with a celebration of all the universal ways in which a mother and child bond,

“She gives me lots of kisses,
she tucks me in at night,
she laughs at ALL my jokes,
SHE HOLDS ME VERY TIGHT”
With this well-written, fancifully illustrated picture book, Julianne Moore and Meilo So have hit a home run for all readers and definitely for intercultural and multi-lingual and interracial families that also keeps children belonging to single parent households from feeling like outsiders.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages–3-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

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