9780525428091-1Mama’s Nightingale:
A Story of Immigration and Separation

By Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
Published by Penguin Young Readers

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“A must-read both for children who live this life of forced separation and those who don’t.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

A touching tale of parent-child separation and immigration, from a National Book Award finalist

After 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 while she’s in jail, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape. Moved by her mother’s tales and her father’s attempts to reunite their family, Saya writes a story of her own—one that just might bring her mother home for good.

With stirring illustrations, this tender tale shows the human side of immigration and imprisonment—and shows how every child has the power to make a difference.

MAMA'S NIGHTINGALE Illustration © Leslie Staub

MAMA’S NIGHTINGALE Illustration © Leslie Staub

Reviews & Accolades
Danticat tells a serious yet hopeful story about a child whose Haitian mother is in an immigration detention center. Saya, whose hair is done up in tight braids with beads, visits her mother weekly but misses her terribly; she finds comfort in the bedtime stories her mother records on cassette tapes and sends her. Staub’s oil paintings temper the upsetting circumstances with bright colors and whimsical objects from the stories Saya’s mother tells, including winged hearts, dolphins, and mermaids. When Saya writes her own story and her father sends it to a journalist, the resulting chain of events brings Saya’s mother home. Readers similarly separated from a loved one may well find solace in Danticat’s honest storytelling. Ages 5–8.”
Publishers Weekly

“A tale of triumph that occurs only because a young girl picks up her pencil and writes to people who can help make change. Saya, a child of Haitian descent, and her father live together in the United States without Mama because the immigration police arrested her one night at work. For the past three months, Mama has been in the Sunshine Correctional facility, a prison for women without immigration papers. Emulating her father, who writes regularly to the media and politicians on his wife’s behalf, Saya writes a letter that is published by the local paper. When the media get involved, phone calls and letters from concerned citizens result in a hearing before an African-American judge, who rules that Mama can go home with her family to await her papers. Visually unifying the story are blue and pink nightingales (a Haitian bird and Saya’s nickname) and hearts with faces and wings or arms and legs. The stories Mama tells help to sustain both Saya and her father through bouts of sadness. Saya’s lifelike stuffed monkey companion seems to perceive what she’s feeling and also helps her to remain strong. Reflecting Danticat’s own childhood, this picture book sheds light on an important reality rarely portrayed in children’s books. A must-read both for children who live this life of forced separation and those who don’t.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The child protagonist of “Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation,” written by the accomplished novelist and memoirist Edwidge Danticat, deploys the inherent power of words to pull off the near impossible: a reunion with her mother, who is in Sunshine Correctional, “a prison for women without papers.” A child of Haitian immigrants, Saya soothes her misery over the separation by listening to her mother’s voice on the answering machine: “Tanpri kite bon ti nouvèl pou nou!” the family’s outgoing message says in Creole, which the bilingual Saya, who narrates the story, translates as “Please, leave us good news.” But no good news is forthcoming. Nightly, Saya’s father writes letters to public officials pleading his wife’s case, but “no one ever writes him back.” After a heart-wrenching prison visit, Saya’s mother manages to send audiocassettes with bedtime stories that she has recorded for her daughter. Inspired, Saya writes her own story about her mother’s absence, and her father mails it to a newspaper reporter. When Saya’s story is published, a public outcry results in Saya’s mother’s release. “I like that it is our words that brought us together again,” Saya concludes. Skillfully written with Creole words sprinkled into the English, “Mama’s Nightingale” is richly illuminated by Leslie Staub’s oil paintings evoking Haitian folk art.”
New York Times Book Review

Groups Represented
Haitian American

Family Relationships
Family Separation

United States

Engagement Projects
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