“My Friend Mei Jing” is a celebration of a beautiful cross-cultural friendship. Mei Jing and Monifa are second graders and best friends. They bond over their common fondness for pets and arts and crafts. They visit each other’s homes often and discover how similar yet different their families’ cultural practices and customs are.
Narrated in the voice of Monifa, whose family is originally from Nigeria, we see how the girls embrace and delight in their differences. They are amused by what their grandmothers cook, and what their own names mean in their native languages–Cantonese and Yoruba. Monifa is fascinated by Mei Jing’s background and her big family; she even learns to eat with chopsticks and dance the dragon dance. Likewise, Mei Jing gets cornrows on her hair and gives Monifa a Chinese coin for her birthday.
Children will easily relate to the everyday aspects that are highlighted to bring out the contrasts, with the theme of friendship at the center of it. Dotted with several cultural references, the narration is simple and fun. Collages made with artwork and real photographs make the book colorful and engaging. Also part of a “My Friend…”series suitable for 4-7 year olds, this is a wonderful picture book to introduce cultures, nurture empathy, and acknowledge diversity among people. It’s also a great read for multicultural families and for back-to-school season!