My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles

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My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9780763697495)

Fallon is invited by her mother to head to the market together. Her mother wraps her hair in a mouchwa and then sets the panye on her head. Her mother lets Fallon try to carry the panye on her head, but it quickly falls off and crashes to the floor. So they set off together with the panye on her mother’s head. She encourages her daughter to take learning the skill slowly and not rush it. She explains that one must move gracefully under the weight of the panye, one must be strong. After they visit the market, the panye is full of food. Fallon knows that to carry the panye is to care for her family. Now she is ready to try once more. But the panye falls again. Her mother encourages her to build her nest and try again. This time Fallon stands tall and takes her time, walking like her mother all the way home.

Set in Haiti, this picture book celebrates the ancient act of carrying a basket on one’s head to handle a heavy load. It’s a skill taught at a young age, just as Fallon is learning it in the book. Fallon’s mother shows patience with her daughter and encourages her to take her time, filling their walk to the market with lessons on what carrying the panye means to the family and also to Fallon herself. It’s an empowering lesson, one that speaks to the strength and resilience of the Haitian people.

Palacios fills the pages with bright and deep colors that show the bustling market and beauty of the hills outside of Port-au-Prince. The grace of carrying the panye is conveyed in the images too, the women tall and upright, full of strength and balance.

A picture book that speaks to tradition and patience when you’re learning a new skill. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780763689773)

Celebrate the New Year in Haitian style with this picture book. It shares the tradition of making New Year’s soup that honors freedom and the end of slavery in Haiti. The soup is made every year by Haitians around the world and this year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle to make it. They turn on Haitian kompa music that sets the beat for their cooking. Herbs are ground in a mortar and pestle with meat then added. A boiled pumpkin is skinned by Belle. More ingredients are added to the pot after being chopped up. Then Ti Gran shares the story of Freedom Soup with Belle and the story of Haitians fighting for their own freedom from slavery. Soon family members come to celebrate freedom and the new year together, feasting on the soup that celebrates their history and traditions.

Charles’ writing has so many wonderful moments inside it. From Ti Gran telling Belle that she has “a heart made for cooking” to her descriptions of Ti Gran’s “dark-sky eyes” and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell” of the soup cooking. She takes the rhythm of the music and reflects that in her words too, so that one can almost hear it playing. The warmth of the kitchen, the beauty of generations working together, and the spirit of freedom all play across these pages.

The illustrations pick up the rhythms of the text and the music with Belle’s braids flying to the beat and her feet moving across the floor. Her sharp edges next to the soft curves of her grandmother make a visual music of their own. 

This is a delicious picture book worth celebrating. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour

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Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour (9781773060415)

A little girl heads to Haiti from her home in America to visit her Auntie Luce, a painter. The girl has sat for a painting year after year since she was seven and first visited. She leaves the snow and cold behind for the tropical world of Haiti with its heat, bright buses, pink cathedral and green hills. She asks her aunt why she never left Haiti, and her aunt explains that she wants to stay in Haiti her entire life and that she is simply different than the girl’s mother who moved to America. There are many things different in Haiti, including the paintings that cover the walls of Auntie Luce’s small home. The girl sees portraits of national Haitian heroes as well as generations of her own family. As her portrait is finished, Auntie Luce encourages the little girl to see herself as both Haitian and American, not one or the other.

This picture book cleverly incorporates small pieces of the history of Haiti into the story line. The little girl has many questions about Haiti in particular but also about why some family members choose to stay while others leave. Small bits of Haitian life are also mentioned, showing the differences between Haiti and America very clearly. The book also looks at art and the way that it offers a chance to speak in a different way about difficult things. Even the paintings themselves are described in gorgeous language that will have readers seeing even more details than they might have.

LaTour’s illustrations turn this picture book into a real look at Haiti through the eyes of someone who clearly loves it. The images come alive as they show a bustling street, the mountain home of Auntie Luce, and the images of ancestors and heroes from Haiti.

A vibrant look at Haiti in a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (9780062473042, Amazon)

This debut novel combines magical realism with the hard streets of modern Detroit. Fabiola and her mother are journeying to live with family in Detroit, leaving their native Haiti behind. But while Fabiola is allowed to continue on to Detroit, her mother is held in a detention center due to issues with her papers. Now Fabiola must get used to living with her American relatives, including three cousins who are loud, fierce and not to be messed with. Fabiola struggles with the food, the culture, and getting used to a new life and school while worrying about her mother. Just as it seems that she is finding a way forward with a new boyfriend and new friends, the dangerous life that supports her family comes crashing down threatening to sweep Fabiola along with it.

Zoboi’s writing is exceptional. She has drawn on her own experience as an immigrant from Haiti in this novel, infusing it with vodou religion and spirits that both guide and haunt. As Fabiola follows the spirits to the truth about what is really happening, she risks everything that she has found to hold onto and love. This is a book that doesn’t turn away from the violence of Detroit, the guns, drugs and power struggles happening even as children die.

There are many moments in this book that a situation is so fraught with danger that it sears into the reader’s brain. Against those moments, Fabiola and her three cousins stand strong and tall. They are four amazing characters who shine on the page each so different from one another and ferociously both independent and interdependent at the same time. This is family on the page, pushing against the dangers that surround them and include them.

Beautifully written with strong characters and danger, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Review: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (InfoSoup)

Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.

Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.

Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.

One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Review: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

hold tight dont let go

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

Magdalie lives in Haiti with her cousin Nadine and Nadine’s mother, but Magdalie considers them to be her sister and mother.  Her aunt works for a wealthy lady, cooking and cleaning, and the three of them live in the lower rooms of the house.  When the earthquake hits Haiti in 2010, the girls survive but Nadine’s mother is killed.  The two girls have nowhere to go but they are rescued by Magdalie’s uncle and move into the refugee camp.  Soon after they move, Nadine’s father gets her a visa and she moves to Miami to live in the United States.  Nadine promises to send for Magdalie as soon as she can.  Magdalie is left all alone, unable to afford to attend school any longer and mourning the loss of her sister and mother.  Magdalie holds tightly to the hope of heading to the United States, but eventually has to admit that she is staying in Haiti and figure out how to not only survive but thrive there.

Wagner writes with a passion that shines on the page.  She shows the beauty of Haiti, creating a tapestry of food, sounds and voices that reveals what is often buried beneath the poverty.  She does not shy away from the ugliness of poverty, from the waste, the violence and the impossible choices facing a girl like Magdalie.  Sex simmers constantly around her, offers are made to young girls, and in one instance Magdalie must make the choice of whether she is willing to be taken care of in exchange for sexual favors. 

Through it all, even when she is deep in despair, Magdalie is clearly a smart girl who loves to learn and wants to be something more than where she finds herself.  Magdalie is incredibly strong too, facing on a daily basis things that American readers will never have experienced.  And that too is part of Wagner’s amazing depiction of Haiti.  She makes it clear that it is because of the society of Haiti that there is immense poverty but also that people can survive that poverty.  When Magdalie visits a rural part of the country, readers revel right alongside her in the natural beauty.  When she longs to return to the camps and the filth, readers too will begin to understand what she sees there and the potential it offers her if she can just find a way.

This is a complex book that does not try to answer society’s issues in a pat or simple way.  Rather it stands as witness to the brutality, beauty and incredible strength of Haiti and its people.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Review: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

seraphinas promise

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with a new verse novel.  Serafina lives with her mother and father in Haiti.  She and her best friend dream of becoming doctors in order to help save people like her baby brother who died.  But Serafina’s family cannot afford for her to even attend school.  Instead she has to work hard to help her mother who is pregnant with another baby.  Serafina carries water for her family, empties chamber pots, sweeps the floor, and keeps the family fire burning.Her father is one of the lucky ones who has a steady job in the nearby city that he walks to every day.  There is no extra money for anything though, even with his work.  When a large storm comes, their small village is ruined and Serafina’s family moves to higher ground.  It is there that Serafina’s dreams start to come true with her new garden and the money it brings.  Then the earthquake strikes.

Burg tells a gripping story of  a young girl with huge dreams living in abject poverty.  Her family is strong and loving, just unable to lift themselves out of the poverty that surrounds them everywhere.  Burg shares small details of life in Haiti, nicely weaving them into the poetry so that it is revealed in a rich and natural way.  The Creole language is also used throughout the book, offering a rhythm and sound that enlivens the entire setting.

Serafina is a well-developed character.  Many of the poems show her own inner feelings in all of their complex beauty.  She is not a perfect character, sometimes showing stubbornness and jealousy, but that just makes her all the more compellingly human.  And the verse throughout the book is lovely, evocative and very effective.  Readers will know that the earthquake is coming and that also creates a tension that makes the book riveting.

This is a powerful look at the Haitian earthquake through the eyes of one extraordinary young woman.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.