I couldn’t think of a better Picture Book to celebrate multiculturalism than one written by a Haitian-born author, written about a Haitian-American family, that highlights a contemporary problem of huge importance. That it’s so beautifully written and illustrated makes this truly a perfect Picture Book!
Title: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Written By: Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated By: Leslie Staub
Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015
Suitable for Ages: 5-8
Themes/Topics: Immigration; separation; storytelling; Haiti; advocacy
Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”
Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.
Links to Resources: We all know that children love to share stories! Mama’s Nightingale is a perfect introduction to the power of our stories and could serve as a jumping off point for sharing stories in a group, such as where we or a relative come from, writing stories (for older children) and/or exploring the impact our stories may have by identifying, researching and writing to advocate for a desired outcome (definitely for older children!).
Finally, there are teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.
Why I Like this Book: Mama’s Nightingale combines several themes: the parent-child bond; bird and rainbow imagery; separation; the power of words and stories. With few picture books available on the topic of contemporary immigration, it also is very timely. Of Haitian descent, Edwidge Danticat captures the Creole spirit, including interspersing Creole words into the English text. She understands the difficulty of separation, as she herself remained as a child in Haiti while her parents worked in the US. She also understands and celebrates the power of words and stories: the Haitian folktales that Mama records for Saya and that tie the two together as well as the words that Saya writes that lead to the book’s resolution. The gorgeous illustrations amplify the story and further celebrate the Haitian spirit.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!