Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Straub
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
Picture book, ages 5-8, Grades K – 3
Kirkus Best Books of 2015 * Jane Addams Book Award honor 2016
Saya’s mother has been arrested at work by the “immigration police” and sent to a detention center because she has no papers. Until Papa and the attorney can clear the matter, Saya is without her mother. Short visits are of some comfort, but Saya finds that Mama’s voice fades away from her memory too quickly.
Mama begins recording cassette tapes of Haitian folktales, so that Saya can have a bedtime story. Mama’s voice fills Saya’s heart and dreams with images of soursoup and nightingales, rainbows and sky travels.
As Saya watches her parents struggle to keep the family together and to secure Mama’s papers, she decides that she has her own story to tell. Saya’s story might just have the power to bring Mama home.
Separation with little hope for reunion is every family’s nightmare. Saya misses her mother desperately, and she never gives up hope. Through her parents’ examples of advocating for justice, Saya realizes that her own strong voice has the power to make change.
By Angela Johnson
Dial Books, 2004
Awards/recognitions: * Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award Nominee * ALA Notable Book * ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Angela Johnson writes the South, writes summer, and writes family like nobody’s business. Her middle-grade novel, Bird, stands as a testament to the very best qualities of the American South – forgiveness, acceptance, and triumph over suffering.
The main character, thirteen year old Bird, knows what she wants – a whole, complete family. She spends her summer in pursuit of her step-father, who has left Bird and her mother in Cleveland. Bird runs far away to Acorn, Alabama in the hopes of finding the only man she’s ever known as father, sure she can convince him to return. But, living in an old shed and snitching leftover pancakes with strawberry syrup while the farm family attends church can’t go on forever. While hiding out, Bird sees people in Acorn who think they’re invisible, yet some Acorn folks also see Bird and resolve to help her.
Johnson tells the story from the perspectives of Bird as well as Ethan and Jay, two Acorn-boys who befriend Bird and in doing so find an easier way of facing their own grief over personal losses. Readers will linger with Bird in a pond so big it ought to be called a lake, so true it summons the children in the story to explore its depth and their own. Readers will also hold their breaths while joy-riding in an old lady’s pickup truck that stirs up a fine red dust from the red dirt road, a dust so fine it settles like baby powder on a girl’s skin and hair. And readers will nod their heads in agreement with Bird’s insights, “In the summer, you can be somebody’s cousin from Michigan or be waiting for your parents who just went into the Fast & Sure Mart for some paper plates or something. You can be almost anybody in the summer.” GA
Learn more about author Angela Johnson.