Edwidge Danticat, nominated twice for the National Book Award in the adult category, here writes a book for children based in part on her own experiences as a child in Haiti. She was separated from her parents while they tried to get immigration papers for her and her brother to come join them in the U.S.
In this story, Saya, a little Haitian girl living in America, is longing for her mother, who has spent the previous three months in a prison for women without immigration papers. Even though Saya and her Papa visit Mama very week, Saya misses her terribly. The parents come up with the idea of the mom sending Saya a cassette tape every week, on which she records bedtime stories for Saya to listen to at night.
In turn, Saya writes for a story her Mama about Mama’s absence, and Papa sends it to one of the local newspapers, which decides to print it. Soon Papa and Saya are interviewed on the local news, and a judge rules Mama can wait for her papers at home. Mama creates a new story, about how “a smart and brave little nightingale helps her mommy find the right rainbow trail, and the mommy follows it home.”
As the author reveals in an end note, “According to the United States’ Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the people Saya refers to as the immigration police, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed and departed in recent years.”
The vivid oil-painting illustrations by Leslie Staub are done in the style of Haitian folk-art, employing bright colors and lots of fascinating whimsical details.
Evaluation: This is a heartrending and heartwarming story, with gorgeous art work.
Note: Kirkus named this a Best Book of 2015, calling this book a “must-read” and writing that “this picture book sheds light on an important reality rarely portrayed in children’s books.”
Published by Dial Books, a member of the Penguin Group, 2015