Call it Home

Recently, we were honored to host author and Princeton University student Uma Menon who is also GRADUATING today! CONGRATULATIONS! Uma brought her gorgeous picture book, My Mother’s Tongues: A Weaving of Languages (Candlewick Press, 2024; illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell). In the book, Uma describes the beautiful dynamic of her family and the multiple languages they speak. So we designed this sweet home…

…that opens to reveal the names of everyday household items in all the languages mentioned in her book! Malayalam, Spanish, Hindi, French, and Tamil!

We used some flat boxes we acquired from our library’s upcycling program, but a folded piece of poster board works too! Just color and cut the household furniture template and household words labels, then glue them into your home. We also provided patterned paper for some extra fancy design elements.

After story time, I caught up with Uma to ask her about her experiences writing her picture book, and what’s she’s planning to do next:


Hi Uma! Tell us a little about yourself!

I am a senior at Princeton University majoring in the School of Public and International Affairs with minors in South Asian Studies, American Studies, and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Outside of school, I enjoy writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. My first children’s book, My Mother’s Tongues, was published by Candlewick Press in February, and it will be followed by a sequel next year, titled Our Mothers’ Names. Both books tell the story of a young Indian American girl who grows up speaking Malayalam and English, inspired by my own childhood. Previously, I wrote a poetry collection, Hands for Language, which was published by Mawenzi House in 2020, and I have also written essays and poetry for many publications including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and The Progressive.

What inspired this book?

I began writing this book around high school graduation, when I was 16 years old. Growing up, I did not encounter any stories of children like me who spoke more than one language, so I wanted to write a book that represented this experience shared by millions of children of immigrants across America. As a child, speaking a different language doesn’t always feel like a superpower—it often feels like a point of difference. Through My Mother’s Tongues, I hope to celebrate the beauty and power of multilingualism while highlighting the wonder and confusion young children may experience.

Do you have any insights or reflections to share, growing up in a bilingual home?

Being bilingual is not easy. As we grow up, attend school, and interact primarily with English speakers, it becomes more difficult to maintain native fluency in our mother tongues. Yet, I realized that there is great value in making an active effort to preserve my knowledge of Malayalam. It has allowed me to connect more deeply with family members, consume diverse media and art, and access more cultural perspectives. Growing up bilingual taught me the value of being able to speak multiple languages and hence inspired me to become a lifelong language learner: inspired by my heritage, I decided to study Hindi while at Princeton. As with Malayalam, learning Hindi has allowed me to access a rich body of literature and film as well as understand more perspectives on the world.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

For me, writing is a valuable tool for personal expression and communication with diverse audiences. Throughout my life, reading and writing have allowed me to better understand my own identity and the perspectives of others. Books have made me a more empathetic and global citizen. As a writer, I hope to reach the hearts and minds of people across the world—those who have both similar and different life experiences as me.

What are you planning to do after you graduate from Princeton University?

In the fall, I will be attending Yale Law School, where I am excited to study international law and human rights. Of course, I will also continue writing across many genres, but I especially hope to begin working on more children’s literature this summer!

Ah, Those Cows and Flowers

Spend a peaceful afternoon in the fields, enjoying the beautiful flowers and warm sunshine. Gentle cow and cork trees included!

We read The Story of Ferdinand, written by by Munro Leaf, and illustrated Robert Lawson (Viking, 1936). This literary classic tells the tale of Ferdinand, a bull who would rather sit and smell the flowers than fuss and fight. When he is mistakenly put in the bull ring, Ferdinand stays true to his peaceful nature and refuses to charge. It’s the ultimate tale of staying true to yourself and being happier for it.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 flower coloring template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Construction paper
  • Assorted pipe cleaners
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

This project is basically an alternative version of the flower boxes we made for this butterfly garden story time. We just used large tissue boxes instead of box tops.

finished butterfly gardenIn additional to using the flowers on the template, you can also use tissue paper to make lovely flowers, and use drinking straws and sparkle stems to add some texture!

Once the flowers were done, we headed out to the fields to meet Ferdinand the bull! I made him out of a couple shipping boxes. The back of the head was open so I could reach in, and I also cut a hole at the bottom of the head as a “mouth.” During story time, the kids offered their flowers to Ferdinand for sniffing. I had a little air pump inside the head that would puff air out and make the flowers tremble.

I have to say, the air puffs freaked a few kids out. But we also had a basket of red pom pom apples nearby to feed Ferdinand, and that was a massively popular activity. He ate apples for a solid 15 minutes!

This this isn’t the first time Ferdinand has appeared on the blog. You can see him enjoying the spring buds here (as well as a really cool wildflower identification website), and he gets a mention in our International Children’s Book Day list here. We love you Ferdinand!

Happy International Children’s Book Day!

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen, taken by Thora Hallager (1869). Wikimedia Commons

April 2 is not only Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday (happy 219th birthday, Hans!), it’s also International Children’s Book Day! Started in 1967 by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), International Children’s Book Day is dedicated to children’s books and is committed to inspire a love of reading in children around the globe. Schools and libraries are encouraged to host parties or story times, read picture and chapter books, have kids pen their own tales or poems, and overall celebrate a worldwide appreciation of children’s books.

Every year, a National Section of IBBY is nominated to be the sponsor of International Children’s Book Day. The sponsor decides upon a theme, invites a prominent author to write a message, and an illustrator is asked to design an announcement poster. The 2024 international sponsor is Japan!

Courtesy of IBBY Japan #ICBD24

Japan’s 2024 theme is “Cross the Seas on the Wing of your Imagination.” Author and recipient of the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award Eiko Kadono composed a gorgeous letter encouraging children to listen to stories that travel everywhere. Artist Nana Furiya designed the official poster, which whimsically repeats the theme in several different languages under a tall tree filled with book characters.

As Katie was composing this post, she got to thinking…what are our Princeton University Library colleagues’ favorite children’s books? Katie asked them that very question and also asked them to explain why in just one sentence.The book could be a recent read, a beloved title from the past, or a favorite as of today.

The response was tremendous! Our colleagues shared books we remembered reading as a child, titles we had never heard of before, stories we have poured over multiple times, and others we are eager to pick up and read. Here are the favorites, listed in alphabetical order by last name:

“Aside from being beautifully illustrated by Gary White Deer, it’s based on a true story, largely forgotten by most of the world, that unites the disparate parts of my ethnic heritage (which aren’t actually that disparate in the end).”

April Armstrong – Library Collections Specialist V, Mudd Manuscript Library


“I remember reading the Redwall books every chance I could get while on family vacation in Maine circa 1994. Just a totally immersive, absorbing experience.”

Kathleen Brennan – Records Manager


“Not only has it been a joy to read it with both of my kids, but it’s a surprisingly thoughtful little story about childhood anxieties and misunderstandings.”

Tom Bruno – Assistant Director, Content Access


“The art is gorgeous, the book is inclusive, and it’s a great introduction to graphic novels. Plus, the tea dragons are adorable.”

Halle Burns – Research Data Management Specialist


“’Favorite’ does not seem an apt word for describing a story that made a fourth-grade me sob uncontrollably as if in bereavement, but I would not trade the experience of reading “Little Mermaid” for that of reading ten happy-ending stories combined. (HCA’s “Little Mermaid” in Chinese translation by Ye Junjian, not in its Disneyfied version)

Minjie Chen – Metadata Librarian for the Cotsen Children’s Library


“I still quote this book: ‘You get what you get and you don’t get upset.’”

Carolyn Cole – Senior Library Software Engineer


“It illustrates the process of self-discovery.”

Alicia Cozine – Senior Library IT Operations Engineer


“It is a story about not caring what others think or conforming to the role society has written for you. With hard work, persistence and creativity, you can make anything happen – like surrounding yourself with nature, even in the middle of the city.”

Jessica Hoppe Dağcı – Coordinator, Marquand Library Operations and Special Collections


“Her house is upside-down! She’s essentially the neighborhood witch, and I love how all the kids’ commonplace problems manifest in reality.”

Dominique Dixon – Associate Librarian


“Adventures of a worker bee who likes to eat pollen, make sweets, and organize her honey pots.”

Mireille Djenno – Global Special Collections Librarian


“It opens up a good discussion about where our food comes from.”

Ameet Doshi – Head, Stokes Library


Darlene Dreyer – Assistant to the Associate University Librarian


“I read it as an adult and was very moved by it. The description of the family and beautiful young friendship, and the more than devastating ending.”

Rebecca Friedman – Assistant Librarian, Marquand Library


“I love the details in illustrations, and as a young parent I could totally understand Petson’s life with a naughty kitten. I read it in Russian countless times, and it was translated to many languages (English title: Pancakes for Findus).”

Maria Gorbunova – Rare Books Cataloging Librarian


“Besides beings a nice story for children who love animals, I appreciate that it was an early exposure to thinking about ethics in scientific research. It also provided considerate thoughts about the nature of prejudice and touched on environmentalism, so not merely the endearing tale of a motherly mouse seeking to save her sick child from the spring plow, but that was also a lovely aspect of the story.”

Hannah Hadley – Manager, Open Publishing and Repository Services, Library-Data, Research and Teaching Services


Berta Harvey – Library Collections Specialist V, Lewis Science Library


“My children found it so engaging when they were toddlers. It has very expressive pictures and it’s fun to read.”

Anna Headley – Senior Library Software Engineer


“A book of stories and poems, mostly whimsical, always thoughtful, and sometimes melancholical.”

Regine Heberlein – Library IT Data Analyst


“ALL of Freeman’s picture books are beautiful!”

Flora Kim – Metadata Operations Specialist


“It was the first time I’d seen my own love for books and fantasy stories reflected back in a book.”

Morgan Kirkpatrick – Special Collections Project Cataloging Specialist II


“This is a wonderful story about how love and care impact the ways living beings interact with the world – all wrapped up in an adorable story about a family trying to adopt fearsome watchdogs only for each dog to become more of a marshmallow than the last.”

Brittany Norwood – Policy and International Affairs Librarian


“The illustrations are rich; my son and I see something new each time we read it. It’s also a wonderful story about how even the most contentious relationships can be healed!”

Stephanie Oster – Publicity Manager, Library Communications


“My favorite story to read to my kids when they were young.”

Anu Vedantham – Assistant University Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Social Sciences


“Timeless triumph of peace and gentleness over stupidity and aggression. And the cork trees!”

Eric White – Scheide Librarian and Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections



“The book builds self-esteem and kids learn how quiet is a superpower.”

Emily Wild – Chemistry, Geosciences and Environmental Studies Librarian


And how about Katie and Dr. Dana’s books? Since someone already mentioned her favorite picture book (“…but not Ferdinand”), Katie picked Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White “because it’s a beautiful story of unexpected friendship, growth, family, and life’s hardest lesson: learning to let go.”

Katie also reminded me of how she visited Andersen’s home country during her awesome travels in Europe! You can read more about her adventures in this post!

As for me, I picked this Jan Brett classic from my childhood because “I was horse-obsessed.” I spent countless hours reading, studying, and drawing elaborate tributes to this picture book (you can see a delightful story time project we did for it here):

I wanted a horse so so so soooo very bad growing up. Wished for it, dreamed of it, waited for it. It took a couple decades, but my horse FINALLY arrived! My heart runneth over…

Three cheers for International Children’s Book Day everyone! And may all your stories have happy endings!