Today’s book comes from a different part of the world but one that faces it’s own challenges: Mama’s Nightingale, A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub (Dial Books).
This book is written from the perspective of Saya, a young girl in America, whose Haitian Mama is in the Sunshine Correctional, “a prison for women without papers”. We feel Saya and her Papa’s sadness that Mama can’t be with them and the pain of separation following a prison visit. Mama starts to send Saya a cassette tape every week with a bedtime story recorded on to it and Saya listens to the tape, imagining Mama tucking her in and kissing her goodnight.
Papa keeps writing to newspaper reporters, the mayor, the congresswoman but nobody ever writes back. One day Saya asks if she can write and she does just that. She writes her story in her words which is then sent to the papers. One paper picks up on her story and soon they are inundated with people wanting to talk to Saya and Papa about Mama. consequently, Mama’s case gets brought before a judge (a black female judge!) and finally she is allowed home while she waits for her papers.
The illustrations in this book are wonderful. The colours and the imagery are just fabulous. I love colour and this is so bright and captivating. We see the nightingale pictured on most pages, sometimes in a cage, sometimes free. The use of thought and sound bubbles help to imagine what Saya is thinking and feeling – a locked padlock here, an unlocked padlock later on, and Mama, floating all around.
When my 8 year old son and I read this, it sparked such a big discussion. The concept of “papers” is completely alien to him. So first we had to look on his wall map to see where Haiti is in relation to America. We then talked about work permits, relating that to his aunt, who lives in Australia. We then got onto Brexit and how at the moment we can live and work anywhere in Europe. We used his classroom and classmates as the example of the 49% vs. 51% and discussed democracy. We kept on going and I fetched out my old passport with stamps and visas for places like Australia and India, which he found fascinating. And all because we read a book. Amazing!
For more World Kid Lit titles, you can also visit the World Kid Lit blog.
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