Written by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
This seemingly simple story delves into the rich history of Haiti and what a child can understand from that heritage. For New Year’s Day, the main character gets to help her grandmother, Ti Gran, make the traditional Haitian Freedom Soup. Through vibrant illustrations; imagery-filled storytelling; and fun, quick dialogue; we watch the grandmother direct her granddaughter to make the soup and explain the history of the name. She goes into a brief explanation of slavery in Haiti, involving the granddaughter to feel more connected to her anscestor’s stories. It’s a little heavy, but brief, and energized by the revolution of her people, with freedom soup as a symbol of that freedom achieved. In the end, the rest of the extended family join our main characters to enjoy the soup and time spent together.
During the reading:
- The author describes a few of the ingredients and tools used to make Freedom Soup, and style of music that you may not have heard of if you’re not familiar with Hatian culture – kompa, epis, and pilon. You may want to look those up beforehand so that you can explain in your own words what they are as they come up.
- As you read about Ti Gran and her granddaughter dancing to the Haitian kompa, have fun with your child as well! You could dance a little with them, or move their feet to a rhythm, etc. so that they’re involved in and connected to the story and characters.
- When Ti Gran asks her granddaughter why the soup is called Freedom Soup, ask your child what they think! Having them make guesses about the story and begin to critically think about the meaning of words, even at a simple level, are good skills to be developing.
- You could show your child a map of the world to show them where you are, and where Haiti is to give them a little context when Ti Gran starts telling the story of the origin of Freedom Soup.
- It is a good idea to find out what your child already understands about the concepts from the Hatian history like slavery! Ask them what slavery is, and see what they know. Then, fill in the gaps in a simple way – the book simply explains that they weren’t free, but an abstract concept like that is probably going to be pretty confusing for a young child. See if you can explain it through some concrete examples. In the back of the book, the author’s note could be helpful – she defines really concisely that “slavery is…forcing somebody to work without pay.” If you’re a US citizen, you might even bring up how it happened in the United States as well, because people didn’t think that Black people were as important as White people, which was wrong and bad for everybody.
- If your child has more questions about slavery or other concepts, don’t be afraid to answer them honestly! There are other resources you can find for children to understand difficult concepts like racism in an age-appropriate way. If you’re ever unsure how to answer something off the top of your head, don’t be afraid to tell your child that you’re not sure, and then to promise to answer their questions later that day/week/etc. (It’s comforting for kids to know they’ll get their questions answered if you tell them a specific time that you’ll talk later – and then they won’t be repeating that question over and over to you!) Just make sure you follow through with that promise of talking later at the time you said!
- Clap your hands with your child to celebrate the end of slavery in Haiti! Make it an animated and fun emphasis of the book! This will also help your child to empathize with the characters as they feel joy and excitement for people they don’t even personally know who had something incredible happen to them.
- Talk about your family’s heritage! Are there any family stories you could tell your child about where they came from, good things their ancestors did or recipes that have been passed down through your family? These are valuable for building a sense of identity and heritage.
- For an active child or a music lover, dance with them some more at the end of the book when the extended family gathers! You could talk about any traditions your extended family has when you get together, like the dancing or a special meal.
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Have you tried any of these ideas? Comment below to share how they worked for your family!