by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
While I love the English language, there’s always been something about other languages that I find intriguing.
In New York City, I have plenty of opportunities to listen in on people having conversations in other languages. Even though I can’t understand what they’re saying (which relieves some of my guilt about eavesdropping), I love listening to the unique rhythms, inflections, and timbres.
When I was in seventh grade, we hosted a French foreign exchange student named Sophie who lived with us for one month during the summer. I was so impressed by her ability to speak English, and it made me wish I could speak a second language too. But I was definitely self-conscious about my American accent.
I’ve had the incredibly good fortune of traveling to many places over the years. In the process, I have been exposed to numerous languages. Sometimes, when I’m in a non-English-speaking country, I become hyperaware of the fact that I am the one who is speaking a foreign language with my family and I wonder how we sound to non-English speakers.
One of my favorite things about traveling is discovering words that don’t exist in English (but should, in my opinion). Like l’esprit de l’escalier in France, which is definitely relatable.
Greng-jai in Thailand.
Fremdschämen in Germany, which explains how I feel when watching awful American Idol auditions.
Boketto in Japan.
Or estrenar in Spain, which reminds me of my experience during our weekly Life of a Reader photo shoots.
I would love to use these phrases (and more!) in my daily life, but I have a feeling I’d be met with many confused looks and would then be required to provide more of an explanation than if I just described what I was talking about in English to begin with. But I don’t think it’ll always be that way.
We live in such a multicultural world that’s getting more and more interconnected by the day. Over time, I bet we will become even more familiar with words in other languages and will start to understand each other better—and appreciate the colorful sentiments that new words add to our language.
This is one of the reasons I was really captivated by Lola Levine from this week’s Dollar Deal book, Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown, illustrated Angela Dominguez. Lola’s father is Jewish and her mother is Peruvian, so she has picked up Yiddish and Spanish vocabulary, like shalom and diario, which she naturally incorporates into her daily life.
“Brown introduces a smart, young protagonist with a multicultural background in this series opener for chapter-book readers. Celebrate a truly accepting multicultural character.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Lola is a great example of how embracing aspects of different cultures can make us stronger. And the book overall is a fantastic celebration of a young girl who is proud of all the parts that make up her background because they define who she is.
Lola Levine Is Not Mean! is the first installment in the Lola Levine series. Lola’s problems start when one day, while playing soccer at school, she accidentally hurts a classmate. The accident prompts everybody to call her “Mean Lola Levine.” The story follows Lola as she tries to fix her reputation and survive second grade.
After reading Lola Levine Is Not Mean!, my friend and colleague David Vozar was reminded of the emotional roller coaster he experienced while watching his daughter play soccer.
“On Wednesday nights, I would take my daughter to the PAL fields in Hightstown, New Jersey, and watch her and her elementary school friends compete. I was not one of those dads who needed to see his daughter win, but it was a very emotional experience for me nevertheless. I just did not want her to be involved in a play that would upset her afterward. Every time the ball would come to her, my heart would stop. I felt that I was living every play. When the ball was kicked away from her position, I could relax again.”
In the spirit of celebrating cultures and languages everywhere, I’m proud to share that we are also offering a Spanish edition of the book for $1: Lola Levine ¡no es mala!
The blog team has prepared lots of fun ways for you to share Lola Levine Is Not Mean! with your class this week. Second grade teacher Taquisia Jones expresses how she uses Lola Levine as a role model in Book Talks. Monica Brown and Angela Dominguez offer a Behind the Scenes look into their creative process. The Book Boys debate: Is Lola mean? And in Cooked Up from a Book, we present a creative classroom activity on writing convincing notes like Lola.
We hope you and your students enjoy Lola Levine Is Not Mean! and that it inspires you to think of the many wonderful ways our cultures intersect and make us who we are.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs