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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
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Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
An Na
Biography
Work
Edwidge Danticat
Biography
Work
Interview
Pam Munoz Ryan
Biography
Work
Walter Dean Myers
Biography
Work
Laurence Yep
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Behind the Mountains

In Danticat's first novel for young adults, Celiane Espérance of Beau Jour, Haiti poignantly chronicles the events of her life in her diary -- a "sweet little book" given to her as a present by her teacher. She describes her friends, her school, and how much she misses her Papa, who is living and working in New York City and waiting for them to join him. But Celiane also writes about the tumultuous events surrounding the 2000 presidential election in Haiti -- including the explosion of a pipe bomb on a bus on which she and her mother are traveling. Because of this experience, Celiane, her mother, and her artist brother, Moy, are finally approved to move to America. The week before Christmas, the family takes its first airplane flight and settles in a Caribbean community in Brooklyn.

Though Celiane is thrilled to see her Papa, life in Brooklyn is confusing and difficult for a young girl from rural Haiti who doesn't speak English. At her gray, concrete school she is lonely and falls behind in her lessons. At home, Moy and her father battle continually about how much independence he should be allowed. But gradually Celiane makes friends, and her brother and father begin to find common ground. As the book ends, the family has moved into a new apartment, which Moy has decorated with a series of his paintings depicting their voyage from Beau Jour to Brooklyn. Moy asks Celiane to name the paintings, and she writes, "All I could think of was the [Haitian] proverb, 'Behind the mountains are more mountains.' It seemed to fit. We had faced mountains of obstacles, but with help from family and friends seemed to have conquered them, at least for now."

In an interview, Danticat reflects on the proverb she chose as her title and as a resolution for the novel. "It's fitting for Celiane and her family because they're really just starting their lives. Coming to the United States was one mountain, but there are many ahead... Often people think that the happy ending is when you get to the United States. But what people who've actually been through this experience know is that sometimes that's just the beginning... You're putting a family together again -- people who have been separated. But when you're together, you have a sense that you can face all these obstacles; you can climb these mountains. And it's better to climb the mountains together than to climb them alone."

In the afterword, Edwidge Danticat writes about how much the book parallels her own story. She moved from Haiti to Brooklyn in 1981 to join her parents when she was 12. She says that she chose to write about a girl immigrating in the year 2000 rather than in her time, however, because 2000 was an important election year in both Haiti and the United States. "In Haiti, it was a year that the elected president was seeking a second term and there were many people who were very much against it. So for the first time you had pipe bombs exploding in the streets, you had children being killed in this kind of violence... I wanted to put the Celiane character in the middle of that particular situation and have her come to the United States at the same time that there was also controversy about the American election, so that it wasn't this easy notion of leaping to the Promised Land." She also hopes the links between the two elections will help American readers make connections between their own world and that of Haiti in terms of questions of justice and injustice in both places.

Through the voice of a young girl, Danticat tells a realistic but graceful story that shows in many small ways how politics, Haitian and American, affect the lives of ordinary people.

back to top Next: Edwidge Danticat: Interview
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