Celiane Espérance lives in the Haitian countryside with her mother, Manman, and her brother, Moy. All have been patiently waiting to join their father, who has been living and working in Brooklyn, New York, trying to raise money and establish paperwork for his family to leave Haiti. When Celiane receives a journal from her teacher for her excellent schoolwork, she decides to record her thoughts on the events that take place around her as her family prepares to move to America. Through her writing, the reader is introduced to her family and all of the places that they visit, including Port-au-Prince during election time, where a bomb nearly kills Celiane and her mother. Their struggles in Haiti come to a close as they travel to meet her father in New York at Christmastime. Now their new struggles begin, as they have to become accustomed to American life.
- Celiane seems to be very anxious when it comes to talking to or writing to her father while she is in Haiti. What causes this anxiety? How does it lessen once she arrives in New York? Celiane describes herself as more of a country person than a city person. In what ways does she seem to change while adjusting to staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and when she is in Brooklyn, New York?
- Manman, Celiane's mother, must take care of her children while their father is away in New York. How has the strain of their Papa being away affected her? How do Manman's sickness and injury change her? In what ways does she expect Moy to be "the man of the house" and "her little boy" at the same time?
- Moy has taken on the responsibilities that his father left behind and goes to school to be a tailor even though he wants to be an artist. Why do you think he remains in school to be a tailor when he loves art so much? How does Moy seem to change when he stays in the city — Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn? In what ways does Moy struggle to become a "man" in his parents' eyes?
- Papa, Celiane's father, moved to New York to raise money for his family to move there. How do you think his being away for so long has affected each person in the family? In what ways must he now adjust to his family being together? How does Celiane's letter to him at the end of the story change him?
- Tante Rose, Papa's sister, lives in Port-au-Prince and works as a nurse. In what ways does she help Celiane's family while they are in the city? Why is there such a struggle between Tante Rose and Manman?
Settings and Theme
- One of the proverbs in the book is "Behind the mountains are more mountains," which means that once you overcome one problem, there will always be more waiting to be solved. How does this apply to this story? In what ways does family help in overcoming such obstacles?
- In her journal, Celiane writes that she was afraid living in a different country and learning a different language would make her a different person. Is that true? Explain. If this were something that you had to do, how would it change you?
- Proverbs are used many times in this story. Celiane says a proverb "makes a picture for you and you must discover for yourself how to interpret it". How would you interpret the proverbs below and why did you interpret them the way you did?
"Little yams make a big pile." "The empty sack does not stand." "Sweet syrup draws ants." "Don't look down your nose at old rags. Remember, they fit you before."
- How does Granpa Nozial's story about the man who brings the ice from the city to the mountain explain both when the family came back from Port-au-Prince and when they were leaving for New York?
- At the end of the story, the family comes together to live in a wonderful new apartment. Do you think this is the end of their struggles in America? Explain what other "mountains" they might find behind the mountains they have just overcome.