Friday, February 26, 2016

Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Title: Mama's Nightingale:
A Story of Immigration and Separation

Author: Edwidge Danticat                                 

Illustrator: Leslie Staub
Publisher: Dial, 2015
Intended ages:5-8
Themes: Family, Separation, Immigration (Haitian)
Opening Line(s):"When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice. At night, while Papa's asleep, I sneak out of bed to listen to Mama's greeting on our answering machine."
Synopsis: When a young girl's mother who lacks "proper papers" is sent to an immigration detention center the girl looks for ways to bridge the distance between them, and maybe even bring Mama home.
What I like about this Book:  This story puts human faces to the problem of immigrant status. No matter what your political stance on this issue, I hope the story touches your heart. The story may not be for every child--and I would adhere to the intended ages and not share with younger readers as I wonder if the thought of this separation might upset those too young to understand immigration status and worry that all parents might be spirited away. However any family touched by this issue would certainly benefit as well as older children in every community. The way our government drags its feet, it's a problem that their generation may well have to deal with.
     As a writer, I love finding the solution in this instance in the power of words. I also enjoyed the way the nightingale was woven through the story, as the girl's nickname from her mama, as part of Haitian folklore, and in the stories that mama and the main character create for each other.
     The vibrant jewel-toned art has a naif, happy quality that lightened the story for me.
     An author's note at the end of the story reveals that the author's family was separated for a time when her parents went to the United States and she and her brother remained with family in Haiti. 
Activities and Resources:
I couldn't find websites for the author or illustrator (the links above go to their active Facebook accounts). Nor could I find book specific lesson plans. And the resources about Haiti at Teaching for Change were targeted to older readers. So here are my own ideas.
  • Discuss why people might leave their homelands. Read the author's book EIGHT DAYS: A Story of Haiti (a fictionalized story of a Haitian earthquake survivor), also written for ages 5-8.
  • Compare other picture book immigrant stories. Here's a few to get started! I'm New Here. My Two Blankets. The Seeds of Friendship.
  •  Think about a family member or friend you haven't seen for awhile. Write a story or draw a picture to send to them. Can you put a bird or a rainbow in your story or drawing?
  • Go birding. Do you have a favorite local bird? Why or why not?
  • Listen to the nightingale's song. :)
illo by Leslie Staub

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Thanks for stopping by! Is this book new to you?


  1. Love that you included a 'song'! I look forward to seeing how this theme is dealt with - definitely on my list! Thanks, Wendy.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I hear music in my head most of the time, so the song was appropriate. :)

  2. What a pertinent choice. It sounds deep and reassuring.

    1. Yes, Joanna! It focuses on hope and doing what you can.

  3. This story really tugs at your heart strings! It is so timely and perfect for families in this situation. Glad to know about this book.

    1. This is a great resource, and a good story!

  4. Ooooh! an audio-visual review today! Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, because otherwise I would have missed it. I agree, Wendy - this is an important issue, where families get separated because of legalities that sometimes don't make much sense.

    1. I missed it when it was released! Surprised I didn't see more about it.

  5. Wow, what a powerful topic, Wendy. I like to have a catalog of books for kids in difficult situations I may run across. This is one families face often in Southern California.

  6. The cover illustration is amazing! It's sad to think this still happens. Great pick!