Books Middle Grade Reading Themes Writing Home: Hues of Diaspora in Literature

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

"When Saya's mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother's warm greeting...

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Fats here.

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Written by Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
Published by Dial Books (2015)
ISBN-10: 0525428097
ISBN-13: 978-0525428091
Copy provided by Hudson Library and Historical Society.

“When Saya’s mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother’s warm greeting on their answering machine. To ease the distance between them, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape…”


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Saya’s mother had been arrested and sent to the Sunshine Correctional, a prison for women “without papers.” Mama was working in a restaurant when the “immigration police” arrested her. Because Mama did not have the “right papers” when she came to America, she might be sent back to Haiti and be forever separated with her family.

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To this day, immigration remains a controversial issue in America. Author Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and arrived in the U.S. when she was twelve years old. In her Author’s Note, Edwidge wrote that the idea of having the right papers has always fascinated her.

Edwidge Danticat drew inspiration from her own experience of growing up in a family that was separated, in part, by immigration. Leslie Staub’s illustrations were a stark contrast to the issue of parent-child separation being addressed in the book. Nevertheless, the vibrant colors represented the rich and diverse Haitian culture as well as the good ending for Mama and her nightingale.

At bedtime, Mama asks me which of her stories I would most like to hear.

I pick my favorite one: the one about the mommy nightingale who skips over rainbows, trying to get home.

“How does the story end?” I ask Mama, even though I already know the answer.

“A smart and brave little nightingale helps her mommy find the right rainbow trail,” Mama says. “And the mommy follows it home.”

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