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 Edwidge Danticat
Awards/Recognitions: *BookSense 76 Pick * Americas Award Honor Book *New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Grown-up girls of summer will recognize Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat as a two-time National Book Award finalist for Krik? Krak! and Brother, I’m Dying. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Danticat and Haitian-American illustrator, Alix Delinois, published a picture book about Haiti called, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti. In Behind the Mountains, Danticat delivers a first-person narrative of a hard-working Haitian family and the tragedies and triumphs they face.
Thirteen-year-old Celiane Esperance lives in the mountains of Haiti with her mother, Manman, and her brother, Moy. The family patriarch, Victor, has gone ahead to America, where he is living, working, and saving for his family to join him in Brooklyn. The story is structured as Celiane’s journal, a gift from her teacher to reward hard work and good grades. Celiane is told she may use this blank notebook for anything she wishes: “Madame Auguste made such a speech of the whole thing to show me and the other pupils all the uses an empty notebook can have. But when she said I could use you to write down things about myself, I became very glad and decided that is exactly what I am going to do. I will tell you everything I can tell no on else, and you will keep quiet because you have no tongue and you cannot speak. My pen is your tongue and I am your voice so you will never betray my secrets.”
Celiane’s secrets include typical worries and daydreams of a young teen – boys, homework, chores. The notebook also keeps a record of such worries that no child ought ever face – surviving a pipe bomb explosion, a five-year separation from her father, fear for her brother’s life during political upheaval. The diary entries contain a vivid, dynamic portrait of Haiti, too. Alive with color and sound and smells of the city and countryside, Behind the Mountains is a powerful sensory experience. Vibrantly painted tap-taps called Wyclef and sporting phrases such as “your love is my love” fill the streets of Port-au-Prince. The brothy, velvety smell of New Year’s Day soup joumou, squash soup, fills Manman’s kitchen. The steady, reflective, and optimistic voice of Celiane infuses each entry with both wonder and wisdom. GA
Learn more about Edwidge Danticat.