Allison's Book Bag

Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat

Posted on: December 2, 2015

Mama’s Nightingale tells a serious but hopeful story about Saya, who is separated from her mother. Stirring illustrations and a tender tale show the human side of immigration in this picture book by Edwidge Danticat, who herself grew up in a family that was separated for years by immigration. Danticat’s book is dedicated to those young people like her main character, Saya, who are dreaming of the day when their family will be reunited.

For Saya, the reason for her mother not being home is that she doesn’t have the right papers to stay in the United States and so she is being held in an immigration detention center. Every night, Saya’s father writes to the mayor and to other politicians, as well as to judges and to reporters about their situation. No one ever replies. Every time, Saya and her father visit the detention center, the question arises as to when her mother can come home. No one has any idea. After one particularly emotional visit, Saya’s mother begins to mail tapes with stories she reads or makes up for Saya to hear. In response, Saya writes her own story. Her story changes the family’s future.

On the serious side, through her honest storytelling, Danticat provides real faces to the debate over immigration. While Saya’s story is fictional, it is inspired by real events. The author herself and her brother were separated from their parents for most of their childhood due to not having the right papers. She is not alone in her experience. According to the United States’ Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed and deported. In Mama’s Nightingale, Danticat has painted a poignant portrait of the difficult situation in which immigrant families often find themselves and given them a voice.

On the hopeful side, Saya finds comfort in the bedtime stories her mother records on cassette tapes and sends her. Saya and her father even listen to them together. In addition, her father faithfully cares for her, offers her advice, and tucks her in at night. Although his sadness is readily apparent, he never allows it to hinder him from his important role as a parent to Saya. When Saya responds to her mother with her own story, she also discovers the power of words. Readers will appreciate reading of how Saya’s story results in her mother being released. Finally, artist Leslie Staub tempers the upsetting circumstances with bright of colors and whimsical objects from the stories Saya’s mother tells.

Mama’s Nightingale is a powerful story. Young people in a similar situation will take comfort in Saya’s story. For those young people not impacted by immigration, Mama’s Nightingale makes a great discussion starting point. So many questions can be addressed such as: What are the right papers? Why doesn’t Saya’s mom have them? How can the proper papers be obtained? Why do immigrants need papers in the first place? Mama’s Nightingale is a tale that will make a difference in everyone who reads it.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 295 other followers

%d bloggers like this: